When my husband and I bought our house in the late ’90s, it came with a mid-century console record player. Low, wide and covered in blond wood, it looked more like a sideboard piece for a dining room than audio equipment. Opening the top lid, revealed a turntable in the center with vinyl albums flanking it on either side. Score!
What a bonus feature in our new home. Neither of us had owned a turntable for over a decade, yet we both held on to our vinyl collections, so we gave it a test drive as we carried in our boxes. I have a memory of the Osbourne Brothers’ bluegrass wafting through the house as I unpacked the kitchenware.
We held onto that cumbersome piece of furniture longer than we should have. It had an automatic record changer so you could stack records on the spindle and play one after the other without lifting a finger. The radio did not pick up well in the basement where it sat and something wonky started happening to the tone arm where it would skip across a record.
But we kept some of the albums and one became a favorite.
Most of the albums left behind by our home’s previous owners were pop music for a certain set of grandparents: Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and lots of Christmas albums. But there were also several lounge music albums with far out cover art that we had to check out.
“Other Worlds Other Sounds,” by Esquivel has become one of my desert island discs. It’s the original 1958 album, not a reissue, and the cover art depicts a barefoot woman in a red leotard with upraised arms trailing a long red cape and standing on a green, cratered planet. The phrase “Living Stereo” lets you know you’re getting the good stuff.
The cover did not disappoint. Esquivel’s music is spacey with futuristic sounding percussion, garnished liberally with lush glissando, and when vocalists are employed, they sing syllables instead of words, such as a punctuated “zu-zu zu.” There is a relationship to bossa nova in his music, but also something so modern that it seems we haven’t caught up to Esquivel yet in the year 2022. My punk meter reader is picking up some attitude.
It shares a brotherhood to Frank Zappa’s instrumental music. They each have elements of jazz, but neither use improvisation. Zappa and Esquivel meticulously arranged their pieces.
This wasn’t my first exposure to Esquivel. In the early ’90s, lounge music enjoyed a resurgence and was dubbed neo-lounge. I bought a 1996 compilation CD called “Martini Lounge” sold by Pottery Barn which included Esquivel’s version of “Begin the Beguine.” I liked it, but never got around to seeing what else he had done.
Three more albums have entered into the inner sanctum: “Dance Date,” by trombonist Buddy Morrow and His Orchestra; a 1962 compilation album called “It’s Coffee Time,” featuring Hugo Winterthaler, Skitch Henderson and others; and “Love Themes From Cleopatra,” by Ferrante and Teicher, a duo of pianists, whose sound is described by Wikipedia as “florid, intricate, and fast-paced piano playing.”
“They made beautiful music, but they were not easy listening,” Scott W. Smith, Ferrante’s manager, said. “They were very dynamic.”
Dynamic translates to danceable. When the needle touches the disc I’m moving.
At first spin, some of these songs are a bit campy but they have gotten under my skin. It’s not often that I get to zero in on a trombone.
I get a kick out of thinking about the square old couple who lived in our house, listening to this music. Guess they weren’t so square. Or maybe I’ve become a bit of a square.
Diana Abreu is a page designer for LNP | LancasterOnline. “Unscripted” is a weekly entertainment column produced by a rotating team of writers.