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…