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METROPOLE ORKEST: Perfect Vision: The Esquivel Sound
At first sight, this is a dubious sounding proposal - an excuse for a jokey Dutch pastiche. Why? Who could hope to better the master, and what would be the point of just copying him? In fact it’s a gem, and it proves, once again, that the same thing can be very different. 23 of the 64 strong Metropole Orkest play here, plus the Lo Van Gorp Singers (4) and seven other, featured, performers who handle the boo-bams, lap steel guitar, bass accordion, theremin, whistling, marimbula and jawbone. Esquivel was a Mexican arranger and pianist who produced a string of classic batchelor-pad hi-fi records in the 1950s and ‘60s, and the repertoire here is drawn from albums he released between 1958 and 1967. The arrangements are extreme, making the most of the potential for clear, separated, sounds and radical stereo choreography – after all that was the glory of Hi-Fi: Esquivel himself never tried to fake naturalistic recordings but built free-standing studio artefacts - rather like the Pet Sound/Smile era Brian Wilson, who was clearly influenced by him. Every sound is made to count here: no filler, no smearing, no lush fog; and the sounds mutate and change at a rate of knots: melodies are articulated by sequences of instruments each taking individual phrases. Everything is calculated to excite the ear: exotic instrumentation, extreme contrasts and individual sounds flying in for a single note, phrase or effect. Cheesy? Certainly - but addictive and impressive. And very listenable. Based on Esquivel’s own arrangements, adapted and brilliantly extended by Stefan Behrisch, these recordings and performances are exemplary. Remember stereo? Not the naturalistic, tasteful stereo but the extreme, weird, psychedelic stereo that has been all but forgotten now? Here it is. Apart from being stunning in its own right, this record makes some wake-up statements about recording and what it can do – and about how far we have moved away from that sensibility. This is an exemplary production in the old style – except that it sounds better than the originals. That, the choice of material and its collection into a single glorious record are three good reasons to buy this CD (OK, there is a regrettable lapse of taste on track 1, but nobody is perfect - and after that the record just gets better and better). Useful notes on Esquivel by Irwin Chusid, and on the Metropol project by Gert-Jan Blom.This could so easily have been a disaster but it’s a joy – and one of many things that can’t be cobbled together in a teenage bedroom: this level of performance, instrumentation and technology takes real money and high skill - and you can’t get there any other way. A useful reminder of a thread worth picking up; and of what recording was all about when it was still exciting.