Bobby Reed, Downbeat
Salsa fans can’t go wrong with the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. the Grammy-winning band, which was founded 15 years ago, marks the milestone with its sixth album, the aptly titled Anniversary. Led by pianist, composer and arranger Oscar Hernandez, this salsa powerhouse presents a generous, 68-minute program that highlights the compositions of its members, including high-octane, dance-worthy tunes by Hernandez and singers Marco Bermudez, Carlos Cascante and Jeremy Bosch as well as conguero George Delgado. The band also offers fresh renditions of three salsa classics: Cheo Feliciano’s “Guaracha Y Bembé”, Ruben Blades’ “Y Deja” and José Alfredo Jiménez’s “La Media Vuelta” with a Hernandez arrangement that showcases three-part vocal harmony.
Throughout the disc, the emphasis is on the the ensemble’s collective sound, but the precise, complex arrangements do allow room fro some superb solos by Hernandez (“Goza El Ritmo”), trombonist Doug Beavers (“Yo Te Prometo”) and baritone saxophonist Mitch Frohman (“Dime Tu”). Special guest Randy Brecker injects a muscular trumpet solo into Hernandez’s original tune “Somos Uno”. This album is filled with infectious, uptempo music, so Hernandez’s arrangement of Osvaldo Farres’ “Tres Palabras” is a rare breather – a slow tune that will give listeners a moment to catch their breath and grab a beverage before returning to the dance floor.
The Spanish Harlem Orchestra will visit California later this month, with a September 22 performance at The Monterey Jazz festival and a Sept. 29 set in Los Angeles at Councilmember Gilbert Cedillo’s 5th Annual Latin Jazz & Music Festival.