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Spanish Harlem Orchestra shines on United We Swing

Somewhere Hector Lavoe and Celia Celia – to name a few - 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, set out to maintain the charged fusions of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and big band sound popularized all over New York in the 60’s and 70’s with the band’s third album.

United We Swing does just that with a bevy of blaring trumpets, trombones, street-smart improvisations and all-out exuberance that serves as an invitation to dance and pure old-school all at once.


Although the overall feel of the album is a throwback, 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 everyone who has a special place in their heart for ”la salsa dura” (hard salsa). Take the charm of Gil Lopez’s piano bouncing off the horn drive in “Llego la Orquestra” (The Orchestra has Arrived).

“En El Tiempo Del Palladium” (In The Time of the Palladium), is an up-tempo homage to the famed New York hot spot while “Plena Con Sabor” (Plena With Flavor) honors the old Puerto Rican genre that eventually made its way to the Big Apple.

The lone oddity is “Late In the Evening” (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 throughout the album like a glove.

One that’s definitely going to make you want to get up and dance. -- Fernando Ruano Jr.

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Tovin Lapan

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