In the same way a chef de cuisine runs a kitchen, percussionist Brian O’Neill leads a team of five musical creators who deftly collaborate on instruments foreign and domestic to form modernist delicacies for hungry, curious listeners. From the high arts of jazz and chamber music to adaptations of mid-century exotica and pop art, the quintet version of Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica renders O’Neill’s original compositions and curious adaptions of Bach, Gershwin, Shostakovich and John Adams into cinematic, layered music for armchair travelers ready to journey off road.

“If John Zorn is an exotica Picasso, O'Neill is his Georges-Braque counterpart in cubism’s transposition to music.”—AllAboutJazz

While the quintet eschews most of the musical forms, rhythms, and styles of the 1950s exotica sound that inspired O’Neill, it fully embraces the unique genre’s love of escapism, whether through deliberate, out-of-context use of global sounds or through jazz improvisation that doesn’t swing and deliberately imitates the rhythm of a skipping record. On the listener’s plate might be equal parts scratch and sniff, bongos with a fugue, and a cat fight at a piano recital. On the stage, the ensemble skillfully negotiates detailed compositions and arrangements of classical works while relying on listening and instinct to drive passionate improvisation.

“No other band on the planet sounds anything remotely like Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica.”—Lucid Culture

The sound of the Orchestrotica’s quintet also exists in two albums that help form the larger Exotica for Modern Livings Series, which launched in 2010 with the group’s big band ensemble performing it’s transcriptions of the lost music of Esquivel. In June 2011, the quintet released Third River Rangoon, it’s first interpretation of exotica as a mélange of jazz, classical, and world music. This sound matured with the band’s sophomore recording, Where Here Meets There (2013), a dichotomous album that introduced even more adventuresome original music on it’s A-side (“Music from Here”) and the group’s most sophisticated adaptations to date on it’s B-side (“Music from There”), the latter including it’s popular arrangements of Gershwin’s three “Piano Preludes.” The series has also been lauded for its unique mid-century modern-inspired artwork, and audiophile-grade production quality.

In addition to O’Neill’s vibraphone and hand percussion, the quintet features Geni Skendo’s bass flute, flute and shakuhachi, the highly stylized classical/jazz bassist Brad Barrett, Tev Stevig on the rare trio of oud, tanbur, and resonator guitar, and Jeremy Smith who referees the ensemble’s interactions and improvisations using a bounty of percussion from marching machines to Arabic frame drums. All of the musicians are teaching artists and the ensemble provides educational programs at the primary school, high school, and collegiate levels.

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Core Performers

  • Brian O'Neill (vibes, percussion, compositions, arranging)
  • Geni Skendo (flute, bass flute, shakuhachi)
  • Brad Barrett (bass)
  • Jeremy Smith (percussion)
  • Tev Stevig: (oud, tanbur, plucked strings)

Listen Free

Quintet Albums

As of 2016, the quintet in this formation has two albums out. Both are part of the Orchestrotica's Exotica for Modern Living Series available in our online store.

Brian O'Neill: Artistic Director, Percussionist, Composer

Brian O'Neill

Brian O'Neill is a versatile multi-percussionist based in New York City and Boston. A "percussion master and musical polymath" (Boston Phoenix), he has performed in a variety of contexts including opera and classical (South Florida Symphony, Boston Festival Orchestra, Arizona Opera Ring Cycle Orchestra, Flagstaff Symphony), as a concert soloist (Sun City Symphony), pop music (Kristin Chenoweth, Donna Summer, Archie Bell, the Del-Larks), and jazz (Bert Seager, Peter Erskine, Wallace Roney, Ernie Watts). While he continues to freelance as an orchestral player and theatre drummer, he has become active in the global music scene performing music from Europe, the Middle East and Latin America regularly. As a multi-percussionist, he performs with his Mexican roots band La Tuza, klezmer-Balkan-Mediterranean hybrid The Klezwoods, The Bert Seager quartet, Mexo-Americana all-stars David Wax Museum, sephardic trio Aljashu, flamenco guitarist Juanito Pascual and others.

Brian's musical adventures have brought him to the Montreal Jazz Festival (main stage), Hawaii International Jazz Festival, the prestigious Festival de Mexico, various stages in Japan, The Kennedy Center, and Carnegie Hall. Currently, he leads a "marvelously flexible" ensemble (Boston Globe) called Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica, which is comprised of two unique ensembles: a vibraphone quartet re-interpreting exotica music from a jazz and classical perspective, and the world's only big band performing Brian's transcriptions of the lost music of Juan Garcia Esquivel, the Mexican arranger and king of space-age-bachelor-pad music. In 2010, his Exotica for Modern Living recording series launched with an homage to Esquivel that received "four stars" from the Sunday Times London and was deemed "deliciously entertaining" by the Wall Street Journal. "O'Neill may be, in the long run, a better exoticist than [John] Zorn"—AllAboutJazz

As a double agent, Brian is sometimes spotted on his first, and perhaps the most ubiquitous percussion instrument—the piano—and recently joined the contemporary chamber quartet CORDIS.

Keep up with Brian and learn about his addiction to studying global tambourine techniques at or on Twitter (@orchestrotica).

Orange photo by Robin Holland.

Geni Skendo: Bass Flute, Flute, Shakuhachi

Geni Skendo

The Boston Globe calls flute and shakuhachi specialist Geni Skendo a “virtuoso,” creating a unique blend of jazz, free jazz and world music. After a successful performing career in his native Albania, Geni moved to the US in 2003 to raise his jazz playing to a higher level. Studies at the Berklee College of Music and The New England Conservatory (MM) led to a deep, ongoing involvement with the Boston music scene. Geni performs with Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica (Best World Music Act, Boston Phoenix Readers’ Poll, 2012), in both its quartet and big-band incarnations. The quartet utilizes Geni’s full palette, while the big band relies heavily on Geni’s powerful bass flute in its recreation of long-lost arrangements by the legendary Mexican arranger Juan Garcia Esquivel. Geni also leads the free improvised chamber music group, Samurai Jazz Trio, consisting of shakuhachi, bass/shamisen and piano. Geni has released three CDs, most recently Acoustic Cowboy, featuring original compositions and new arrangements of songs from Olivier Messiaen, African pygmies and the Balkans.

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Brad Barrett: Bass

Brad Barrett

Brad Barrett is a highly skilled bassist and has performed virtually all genres of music. His musical stylings and high-level improvisational skills have landed him academic scholarships, tours, and unique performance opportunities in many states as well as Europe and Asia. Brad has recorded with Ran Blake, Bob Moses, Jerry Leake, and Hankus Netsky. He has also performed at the Panama Jazz Festival, Idlywild Jazz Festival, USO Tour (Asia) as well as with a variety of bands over the past 10 years. Brad is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Jazz Improvisation at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

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Tev Stevig: oud, tanbur, resonator guitar

Tev Stevig

Tev Stevig is a Boston-based guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, specializing in a variety of pluckedstring instruments from the Balkans, Greece, and Turkey. He joined the Orchestrotica's quintet in 2013 and had been playing guitar and steel guitar with the group's 22-pc Esquivel big band since 2011. Tev also performs with his solo/duo project called Jeni Jol, which incorporates elements of music from the Balkans, Greece, and Turkey in his original compositions and arrangements for clawhammer style fretless guitar. Jeni Jol's first CD was released in the fall of 2013 and is the first of an exciting new series of CD releases featuring solo clawhammer style guitar. Tev also plays electric guitar and oud with the klezmer/Balkan/jazz/rock band Klezwoods. He plays tanbur with the Ottoman art music group Orkestra Marhaba and acoustic guitar and oud for the Balkan/new-grass group, Hickory Strings. His musical travels have brought him to the main stage at the Montreal Jazz Festival, the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington DC, the Apollonia Festival of Arts in Bulgaria, as well as many other music venues in North America and Europe. He has performed with such seminal Balkan folk artists as Yuri Yunakov, Goran Alachki, Gieorgi Yanev, Adam Good, Beth Cohen, and Walt Mahovlich. He has also performed with Ramon de los Reyes Spanish Dance Theater, Julia Madeson and Aljashu (Sephardic music), Zamir Chorale, and the Turkish art music ensemble, Dunya.

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Jeremy Smith: Percussion

Jeremy Smith

Jeremy Smith is a percussive artist whose unique versatility allows him to move seamlessly among numerous musical styles from around the world. While the foundation of his playing comes from his classical training at Juilliard, his passion lies in improvisational percussion traditions such as those found in South America, Africa, India, the Middle East, and jazz.

He has performed with ensembles and artists such as Alí Bello and the Sweet Wire Band, Ensamble a Contratiempo, Gerardo Contino y Los Habaneros, Gian-Carla Tisera, Los Crema Paraiso, and Latin Grammy nominee Luisito Quintero. He is also a member of the innovative Middle Eastern music group Brooklyn Nomads led by oudist Hadi Eldebek.

As a composer, Jeremy has written two works for percussion trio. “In Unison” was written for and premiered by students at the 2013 Juilliard Summer Percussion Seminar. In 2012, he premiered “5-7-9” at Juilliard’s electro-acoustic concert series Beyond the Machine 13.0. This work has also been performed at the Manhattan School of Music and had its Asia premiere in July 2014 at the International Percussion Festival in Seoul, Korea. Jeremy is an active freelance artist based in New York City where he is also an accompanist for modern dance classes at Peridance Capezio Center, Steps on Broadway, Paul Taylor School, Ballet Tech School, and Harkness Dance Center. He received his Bachelor of Music degree from The Juilliard School as a student of Gordon Gottlieb and Markus Rhoten.

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