Oscar Hernández and the Spanish Harlem Orchestra [SHO] have set the bar so high for the kind of Afro-Caribbean ensemble musicianship that no one but the SHO itself can raise that bar – which it does every time a new album is created. Of the iconic medium-sized and larger ensembles playing Afro-Caribbean music today none can match their degree of sophistication and interpretation of composition and improvisation.
And so, once again the degree of balance and integration – on the repertoire on Imágenes Latinas – of the melody, harmony and rhythm, of exploration, individuality and tradition is elegantly maintained throughout.
The award-winning SHO is renowned both for the originality of composition and the energetic interpretation of mambo and other dance forms and the gliding elegance of more romantic songs such as boleros and others. Listening to the instrumental portions of each song – “Llegó la Hispánica” and “Imágenes Latinas”, you will be awe-struck at the taut conducting by Mr Hernández as the musicians intertwine their ensemble voices, soar heavenward in their soli.
The singers at the front end of the music attack their parts with blazing conviction in the choruses and the wonderful solo singing. The spiraling and rippling energy of “Sentimiento y Son” is a marvelous example of this.
In all of this Mr Hernández’s voice – not as a pianist this time around – but as a composer must never be lost on the listening audience. In paying tribute – as he and the SHO does here – to Jerry González and Andy González, Manny Oquendo and Barry Rogers, Mr Hernández also reveals the sinewy muscularity of his own writing – his grasp of tonal colour and rhythmic intensity which he applies to melodies such as “Llegó la Hispánica” is extraordinarily distinctive with its exploratory chromaticism and rich sonorities.
Jeremy Bosch [“Vestido de Flores”], Marco Bermúdez [together with Gil López on “Mi Amor Sincero”] and Carlos Cascante [“La Música Latina”] also make suave contributions.
Most impressive – as always – is the monumental wall of harmony and rhythm that is built by musicians who are not only adept at reading and interpreting charts, but at performing their roles [in ensemble and when soloing] with extraordinary idiomatic imagination and grace. All of this, of course, means that whenever the SHO creates music it not only robustly captures the rich traditions to which this music belongs, while also contributing enormous riches to the musical continuum as well.
Tracks – 1: Llegó la Hispánica; 2: Imágenes Latinas; 3: Vestido de Flores; 4: De mi para tí; 5: Romance Divino; 6: Como te Amo; 7: Mambo 2021; 8: Sentimiento y Son; 9: Cuando la Hispánica Toca; 10: Mi Amor Sincero; 11: La Música Latina
Musicians – Oscar Hernández: piano and musical director; Marco Bermúdez: vocals and coro; Carlos Cascante: vocals and coro; Jeremy Bosch: vocals, coro and flute; Manuel “Maneco” Ruiz: trumpet; Alex Norris: trumpet; Doug Beavers: trombone; Juan Gabriel Lakunza: trombone; Mitch Frohman: baritone saxophone and flute; Jerry Madera: bass; Luisito Quintero: timbales, maracas and güiro; George Delgado: congas; Jorge González: bongos
Released – 2022
Label – Ovation Records [OV – SHO – 61]
Runtime – 57:31
Featured photo of Oscar Hernández by Luxe Creative Imaging