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Tag: Spanish Harlem Orchestra review

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

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.

The Spanish Harlem Orchestra Bring a Wild Salsa Party to Curry Hill

Remember when you couldn’t walk down the avenue anywhere in the five boroughs without hearing salsa blasting from every other car and delivery van? Back in the day, it was such a welcoming sound to come home to, especially after being outside the country. Reggaeton and cumbia may have eclipsed salsa as Latino New York’s default party music, but it isn’t just oldtimers who’re keeping it alive. The Spanish Harlem Orchestra don’t play as many gigs as they used to, so if classic 70s salsa dura is your thing, their three-night stand at the Jazz Standard this Feb 21-24 is for you. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is a hefty $35, but remember the club doesn’t have minimums. On the other hand, nobody’s going to blame you if you can’t resist the barbecue: keep in mind they share a kitchen with Blue Smoke upstairs.

The band’s latest album, Anniversary is streaming at youtube. It’s a mix of originals and imaginatively reinvented standards. The opening track, Esa Nena sets the stage with a 70s Fania Records blueprint: blazing brass, playful polyrhythms, energetic call-and-response and a pulsingly catchy, vamping Afro-Cuban groove.

Yo Te Prometo is a bristling bolero in bright salsa disguise. Underneath the brassy gusts and insistent drive of Dime Tu, there’s a hypnotic thicket of woodblock and bongos, the timbales coming further toward the front alongside a honking Mitch Frohman baritone sax solo. The song’s message of solidarity carries special resonance in these xenophobic times.

Goza Al Ritmo has a shadowy solo from pianist Oscar Hernández. A tantalizingly brief, punchy trumpet solo and a go-for-broke outro cap off the mighty dance anthem Echa Pa’Lante. Guaracha y Bembe is a distinctly New York update on 50s Cuban big band majesty: singer Marco Bermudez calls this the soundtrack for a crazy night, and he isn’t kidding.

Y Deja and La Media Vuelta are more romantic, looking back to the 80s and then a couple of decades further, respectively. Cancion Para Ti is the poppiest, most 80s-flavored track here, Jeremy Bosch’s flute fluttering in and out. Como Te Quise has some unexpected baroque moments from the brass – Reynado Jorge and Doug Beavers on trombones, Hector Colon and Maneco Ruiz on trumpets.

Tres Palabras – another spiced-up bolero – has a deliciously lush, nocturnal atmosphere: it comes across as a more lavishly orchestrated counterpart to Bio Ritmo. Likewise, Somos Uno has a pouncing intensity along with a bubbling, triumphant trumpet cameo from Randy Brecker, The album’s final track is Soy El Tambor, a mighty, tumbling coda to over an hour’s worth of music. 

First and foremost, this is a party in a box. Lyrically, the songs celebrate pretty women, getting out on the floor and rhythmic sabrosura, with more serious references to the music’s cultural and historical value. At this point in history, salsa is a legacy genre like Chicago blues, roots reggae and bluegrass; there aren’t as many people taking it to new places anymore and this is one group who still are.