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Spanish Harlem Orchestra

Somewhere Hector Lavoe and Celia Cruz to name a couple are smiling, and probably jamming as well. And Oscar Hernandez should no doubt feel a sense of accomplishment. Hernandez, the founder and pianist for salsa ensemble Spanish Harlem Orchestra, recently set out to maintain the charged fusions of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and big band sound popularized all over New York in the ´60s and ´70s and on the group´s third album, United We Swing, he achieves just that. The album has a bevy of blaring trumpets, trombones, street-smart improvisations, and all-out exuberance that serve as a celebration of dance and pure old-school all at once. Although the overall feel of the album is vintage, the Grammy-award winning group scores big with original material played by veteran musicians who shared the stage with some of the famed salseros of yesteryear. The album provides something for lovers of la salsa dura (hard salsa). Take the charm of Gil Lopez´s piano bouncing off the horn drive in ¨Llegó la Orquesta.¨ The tune ¨En el Tiempo del Palladium¨ is an up-tempo homage to the famed New York hotspot, while ¨Plena Con Sabor¨ honors the old Puerto Rican genre that eventually made its way to the Big Apple. The lone oddity is ¨Tarde en la Noche¨ which, despite being well-written by Paul Simon, has a strange feel (salsa just doesn´t carry the same vibe in English). Still, Hernandez´s beautiful and brassy arrangements make it worthwhile. The group´s trio of demonstrative, polished, and fine-tuned vocalists (Ray de la Paz, Willie Torres, and Marco Bermudez) bring an added touch that fits the band´s harmonic diversions like a glove throughout the album. One that´s definitely going to make you want to get up and dance.
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Fernando Ruano Jr.

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