By Bobby Reed | Published September 2018
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 Hernández, this salsa powerhouse presents a generous, 68-minute program that highlights the compositions of its members, including high-octane, dance-worthy tunes by Hernández and singers Marco Bermúdez, Carlos Cascante and Jeremy Bosch (who also plays flute), 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 Hernández arrangement that showcases three-part vocal harmonies.
Throughout the disc, the emphasis is on the ensemble’s collective sound, but the precise, complex arrangements do allow room for some suburb solos by Hernández (“Goza El Ritmo”), trombonist Doug Beavers (“Yo Te Prometo”) and baritone saxophonist Mitch Frohman (“Dime Tú”). Special guest Randy Brecker injects a muscular trumpet solo into Hernández’s original tune “Somos Uno.” This album is filled with infectious, uptempo music, so Hernández’s arrangement of Osvaldo Farrés’ “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 Sept. 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.