An Upbeat New Album and a Loisaida Release Show by the Spanish Harlem Orchestra

by delarue

One auspicious development here in New York is that we are seeing several groups whose performances were banned during the 2020-21 lockdown beginning to reemerge. Before March of 2020, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra were leaders in keeping the flame of oldschool salsa dura alive, while adding their own brassy spin on a sound that in many ways defined this city for so long. Even better, they have a brand new album, Imágenes Latinas – streaming at Spotify – and a record release show this May 20 at 7:30 PM at Drom. Adv tix are $30, which is five bucks less, in a more salsa-centric space, than their previous release show at the old Jazz Standard several blocks to the north.

All the singers – Marco Bermudez, Carlos Cascante and Jeremy Bosch – kick in right off the bat on the first number, Llego La Hispanica,,over the blaze of trumpeters Maneco Ruiz and Alex Norris, and trombonists Doug Beavers and Juan Gabriel Lakunza. Mitch Frohman’s baritone sax smokes in the background, bolstered by bassist Jerry Madera as bandleader Oscar Hernandez’s piano tumbles elegantly. The percussionists – timbalero Luisito Quintero, conguero George Delgado and bongo player Jorge Gonzalez – are slinky and pretty chill on this one, but they will all cut loose later on.

The album’s title track, a shout-out to immigrant determination, gets a deliciously spare, noir-tinged intro before the brass blasts in. Bosch contributes the cheery, undulating Vestido de Flores. After that, their catchy take of De Mi Para Ti makes a good segue, echoing Manny Oquendo and Conjunto Libre, a persistent influence throughout the record.

Romance Divino, a Hernandez original, has a more pop-oriented 80s salsa romantica vibe but with a classic-style arrangement. A steady, salsafied take of the bolero Como Te Amo makes another good segue, with a tastily shifting brass chart.

Frohman opens Hernández’s Mambo 2021 with a blithe flute solo, then switches back to baritone and completely flips the script, followed eventually by a tantalizingly brief timbale solo from Quintero. Sentimiento y Son has a rustic bomba rhythm but also the sophistication of the group’s home turf.

Likewise, Cuando La Hispanica Toca is an update on a smoky, vintage Machito cha-cha sound. The group slow down a little for the plush, balmy but moodily modal clave ballad Mi Amor Sincero and stay on that tip to close the album with La Musica Latina. We took this group for granted for so long: good to have them back.