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Spanish Harlem Orchestra: The Latin Jazz Project

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Spanish Harlem Orchestra: The Latin Jazz Project
Spanish Harlem Orchestra - The Latin Jazz Project

Featured Album · Editor’s Pick

In the nearly two decades of its existence, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra has come to be regarded as one of the most important contemporary Latin music ensembles in existence today. There is a very good reason for this and it does not only have to do with being recognised by three Grammy Awards [although that helps]. The Orchestra – fronted by the inimitable composer, arranger and pianist Oscar Hernández – is a potent musical force, generating near-atomic energy when it performs – in the studio and on stage. However its seventh album, The Latin Jazz Project, comes with a slight twist and the epic story of seemingly a lifetime in performing music across the globe, teaming up with a galaxy of superstars every so often.

And so, even as the Orchestra has been creating and performing music in this style for years, Mr Hernández decided to script a special story with The Latin  Jazz Project, co-produced by long-term cohort: trombonist, arranger and composer, Doug Beavers. In essence what this recording does is to honour the stream of Jazz music and its icons, both of which have been a constant source and a rippling pool of musical inspiration and energy that has fed and grown the ensemble ever since it broke through from its home in New York City, traversing the world to spread the message of what is referred to as “Latin-Jazz”.

Moreover what sets this recording apart from every other recording that the Orchestra has recorded before is that each of the eleven songs honours the two streams of music – Jazz and Latin – and features  impressive guest-soloists such as the great saxophonists Dave Liebman, Bob Mintzer, Miguel Zenón and Bob Franceschini, trumpeter Tom Harrell, a genius on his instrument, if ever there was one, as well as the young lions, Michael Rodríguez and Jonathan Powell; vocalist Kurt Elling and vibraphone wizard Joe Locke. It’s hard to come up with just one song to highlight as something that is typical of this album’s excellence because every song – with each guest soloist – is of an extraordinarily high quality in terms of the arrangement, the playing – both solo and in ensemble – and ultimately the effect all of this glorious music has on the mind’s ear and on the heart, where this music is most deeply felt.

The musicians of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra are on the top of their game throughout and they negotiate these breathtaking charts  with plenty of intuitive cohesion. Despite its size and the fact that soli abound, the ensemble operates as a partnership of equals with each member of the group exploiting his technique, expression and feeling – which, in turn, brings deeply interiorised readings to all the material. The compositions themselves supply the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and its guests with a cornucopia of dancing melodies, insistent and energetic rhythms, and edifying harmonic concepts. Naturally the makes for many memorable moments woven into a diaphanous sonic fabric made up of the most spectacular musical texture. The guest soloists play with sublime, idiomatic brilliance, making each one of these eleven tunes music to die for.

Track list – 1: Ritmo de mi Gente; 2: Bobo; 3: Invitation; 4: Acid Rain; 5: Las Palmas; 6: Silent Prayers; 7: Round Midnight; 8: Fort Apache; 9: Latin Perspective; 10: Joe and Oscar; 11: Descarga de Jazz

Personnel – Featuring Kurt Elling: vocals [3]; Joe Locke: vibraphone [9, 10]; Jimmy Haslip: bass [6]; Tom Harrell: trumpet [5]; Dave Liebman: soprano saxophone [6]; Bob Franceschini: tenor saxophone [4]; Bob Mintzer: tenor saxophone [2]; Jonathan Powell: trumpet [7]; Michael Rodríguéz: trumpet [8]; Miguel Zenón: alto saxophone [3]; with The Spanish Harlem Orchestra – Oscar Hernández: piano [soli on 1, 3, 5, 7, 8], arrangements [1, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11] and producer; Héctor Colón: trumpet and flugelhorn; Manuel “Maneco” Ruiz: trumpet and flugelhorn [1, 5, 6, 8, 11]; Jonathan Powell: trumpet and flugelhorn [2, 3, 4, 7, 9]; Doug Beavers: trombone, arrangements [3] and co-producer; Noah Bless: trombone; Jorge Castro: baritone saxophone; Mitch Frohman: baritone saxophone [solo on 11]; Luisito Quintero: timbales, shèkèrè, shakers and chimes [solo on 2]; George Delgado: congas [solo on 5]; Jorge González: bongos; Gerardo “Jerry” Madera: bass; Jeremy Bosch: flute [soli on 1, 6, 7] and vocal [11]; Marco Bermudez: vocals [11]; Carlos Cascante: vocals [11]; Marty Sheller: arrangements [2]; Ángel Fernández: arrangements [4]; Gene Amato: arrangements [7]; The Spanish Harlem Orchestra is featured on track 11.

Released – 2020
Label – ArtistShare [AS 0177]
Runtime – 52:55

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Orlando Amy

    Jul 22, 2020 at 5:45 pm

    Excellent review of an excellent recording

  2. ANGEL E. HERNANDEZ

    Jul 24, 2020 at 9:47 am

    Very well done!

  3. Bill Raffinello

    Jul 27, 2020 at 8:37 am

    Silky smooth

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Featured Albums

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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Roberto Jr. Vizcaino, Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaino Guillot - Photo Nayeli Mejia
Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot - Photo: Nayeli Mejia.

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.

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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.

Deo gratis…

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 [9]

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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