The celebrated ensemble led by pianist and musical director Oscar Hernández has been in the limelight since 2002, when their debut recording, Un Gran Día En El Barrio scored a Grammy nomination for Best Salsa Album and a Latin Billboard Award for Salsa Album of the Year. In 2004, with Across 110th Street (featuring Rubén Blades) the band won its first Grammy award. In 2007, United We Swing earned yet another Grammy nomination. In fact, every one of the band’s previous records to date has been nominated for the award and in 2010 SHO won its second Grammy with Viva La Tradición. While 2014 has been the exception so far, let nothing be taken away from the orchestra’s performance on the eponymous album, Spanish Harlem Orchestra. This is a superb album with twelve exquisitely arranged and performed songs, not only by the instrumentalists but also by the vocalists, who often tend to get by without a mention. This 2014 album is also without one of the more important and charter members of the orchestra, Gilbert “Gil” López, who passed away, but not without contributing two compositions and three superb arrangements for the recording. He is sorely missed and this is evident in the vocals of Marco Bermúdez, his partner in compositions. Musical Director Oscar Hernández and the rest of the band members clearly miss his presence as well. But, proverbially, life goes on. And what a celebration that life is, right from the get-go, the anthemic “Latinos Unidos” a chart that the band could easily adopt as its signature tune going forward.
The mechanisations of an orchestra such as SHO are crucial to its performance and this is something that the band excels at. Horns nestle cheek-by-jowl with percussion and the rhythm section of percussion and bass provides a growling underbelly—along with the glorious baritone saxophone of Mitchell Frohman—and all of this comes together in the fervor of vocals of Ray De La Paz, Marco Bermúdez and Carlos Cascante. The glue that holds everything together is, of course, Oscar Hernández, although this is a democratic collective and it is remarkable just how democratic the ensemble is. Elegant and hip are the watchwords here. The first bars of “Canción” bear out this view. The ascending and descending figures and motifs in minor modes are quite simply fabulous and these inform the piece throughout, which makes it one of the high points of the album. Moreover few ensembles in Latin Jazz can boast of such a suave interlocking of voice and instruments, and that too in such a bluesy vein. And then—even though there is not a bad chart on the album—producers Mr. Hernández and Doug Beavers have ensured that one chart is better than the other so it is difficult to pick out the crowning glory of the album. Suffice it to say that “Que Linda Son las Latinas” says what is most exquisite not only of the beautiful “Latinas” but of the music of the band itself.
As if all of this were not enough the wondrous gifts of Chick Corea on piano and mini Moog and the tenor saxophone of Joe Lovano grace the only English chart on the album, “You and the Night and the Music,” providing delightful twists and turns to the song’s narrative. A final word: Luisito Quintero (especially on “Así Se Vive”) makes this an affair to remember. The celebrated timbalero brings bounce and verve to an album that is already wonderful and when he combines with conguero George Delgado, the effect is stunning. As SHO said of its music in the 2010 recording, this album too is a case of “Viva la Tradición!”
Track List: Latinos Unidos (SHO intro); Caribe Soy; Escucha mi Son; Bravo yo Soy; Canción; Boogachason; This is Mambo; Asi se Vive; Dulce Compañera; La Princesa; Que Linda Son las Latinas; You and the Night and the Music
Personnel: Oscar Hernández: musical director, piano; Gerardo Madera: bass; Luisito Quintero: timbales; George Delgado: congas; Jorge González: bongos, guiro, maracas; Héctor Colón: trumpet; Manuel “Maneco” Ruíz: trumpet; Doug Beavers: trombone; Reynaldo Jorge: trombone; Mitchell Frohman; baritone saxophone, flute; Daniel Antonetti: timbales (2); Ray De La Paz: vocals; Marco Bermúdez: vocals; Carlos Cascante: vocals; Chick Corea: piano, mini Moog (12); Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone.
Label: ArtistShare | Release date: September 2014
About Spanish Harlem Orchestra
Spanish Harlem Orchestra, the two-time Grammy winning Salsa and Latin Jazz band, sets the standard for excellence for authentic, New York style, hard core salsa. Live or recorded, it doesn’t get any better. Whether a concert hall or an outdoor jazz festival, there is no easing you in, they are coming at you full force from start to finish. Their energy on stage, rich sound and musical precision leave audiences mesmerized until the last note is played. With an unwavering respect for the music’s rich history, thirteen world-class musicians and vocalists come together to create an unparalleled musical experience. Read more…
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Listening to the music of Siempre Más Allá, it certainly seems that the young French pianist, Adrien Brandeis has strengthened the belief that he is a proverbial citizen of the Afro-Caribbean universe. To be clear Mr Brandeis still loves all music and swings as hard as any pianist who loves Black American Music – that is, music that you can sing and dance to. But also continues to be beguiled by the rolling thunder of Afro-Caribbean music. The wild call of the rhythms and the joie de vivre of the questing melodies and harmonies not only appeal to his ear, but also speak to him in the hidden parts of his heart.
By his own admission Siempre Más Allá took root during three tours to Mexico undertaken under the aegis of the Fédération des Alliances Françaises du Mexique. The virtually all-Afro-Cuban repertoire of the album radiates charm at every turn. These disarmingly natural and eloquent performances bring out the music’s inherent drama and penchant for tumbao with a deft touch while indulging Brandeis’ lyrical instincts to the full. Meticulously balanced, the four quartet pieces, the trio and duo pieces feel as if they are chamber works. Brandeis’ astonishingly insightful playing is musically captivating and technically blemishless. Each phrase rings so completely true that one can’t imagine the music played any other way.
The album features Mr Brandeis and a group of very accomplished musicians. These include the celebrated Cuban percussionist Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot [on two tracks] and his son Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Mexican drummer José Loria Triay make up the wall of percussion. The Brasilian bassist Giliard Lopes brings his distinctive veritas to the whole rhythm section. The big surprise here is, perhaps, the presence of the great Cuban Horacio “El Negro” Hernández sitting in the drum chair on La buena vibra.
Siempre Más Allá is an affirmation of Brandeis’ enduring love and natural affinity for Latin music. Not surprisingly the music seems to echo the famous Latin American phrase: “¡Que rico bailo yo!” [which, in English, exclaims: “How well I dance!”]. This is no hyperbole as the music – in its pulses and rhythms show as Brandeis traverses the rhythmic topography of the Caribbean and Latin America. Along the way Brandeis plunged into the world of changüí, the chacarera, Brasilian gaucho music and the ancient melodic thunder of bàtá drums.
From the get-go listeners will find themselves immersed in quite another world of rippling percussive grooves. The track Ek Bakam, for instance, conjures the intricate architecture; the line and flow of an epic Mayan civilisation located in the Yucatan. Narratives from the Latin world abound – often paying homage to famous traditional musicians. Pancho’s Power is one such chart inspired by the vivid world of the legendary trio Los Panchos. Brandeis gives his percussion section a lot of space when he puts the spotlight on them on Tierra de Oportunidades – a wistful memory of the pianist’s three tours to Mexico, which is also incidentally the popular provincial slogan of the Mexican state of Guanajuato. On Huachi-Huachi Brandeis digs deep into the epicurean delights of the only Latin country in North America with this song in praise of a kind of gourmet Mexican fish: the huachinango.
Brandeis then celebrates his association with percussion colourist Roberto Vizcaíno Jr. with the extraordinary music of Vizcaíno Blues, a piece unique with its exploratory chromaticisms and elegant sonorities that beautifully capture the eloquence of the percussionist in whose praise the music is written. Mindful of the fact that Vizcaíno is Cuban but makes his home in Mexico, Brandeis shapes the rhythmic and harmonic palette of the piece accordingly. On La Buena Vibra Brandeis delivers astonishing pianistic fireworks in the piece’s melodic and harmonic lines, played at a frenetic pace, to mirror the style of its dedicatee, Michel Camilo. The pianist demonstrates an authentic home-grown grasp of Cuban music as he reimages Voy a Apagar la Luz, by the legendary and late-singer Armando Manzanero, here adapted as a wistful solo piano work. Meanwhile on the dizzying ride of Humpty Dumpty the pianist pays homage to another idol: Chick Corea, by revisiting the sparkling composition of the recently-deceased piano maestro.
It is hard not to be mesmerised by this spirited and finely nuanced music artfully crafted in an album by Adrien Brandeis, a pianist who is about to take the world by storm with a recording that is going to be one of the finest by any musician located outside the Latin American sub-continent.
Tracks – 1: Huachi Huachi; 2: Alegría; 3: Pancho’s Power; 4: Ek balam; 5: Un peu d’espoir; 6: Vizcaíno’s Blues; 7: Tierra de oportunidades; 8: Humpty Dumpty; 9: La buena vibra; 10: Voy a apagar la luz
Musicians – Adrien Brandeis: piano; Giliard Lopes: contrabass; José Loria Triay: drums; Roberto Vizcaíno Jr: congas and bàtá drums. Featuring – Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot: percussion [1, 6]; Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: drums 
Released – 2022
Label – Mantodea Music Productions
Runtime – 58:25
YouTube Video – Adrien Brandeis – Siempre más allá (EPK)
YouTube Audio – Adrien Brandeis – Vizcaíno’s Blues
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