Spanish Harlem Orchestra

The Latin Jazz Project
(ArtistShare)

Despite Spanish Harlem Orchestra considering this its first full-length Latin-jazz recording, those who love the ensemble’s intoxicating blend of Afro-Latin rhythms, bright melodies and multihued harmonies won’t find The Latin Jazz Project to be a grand departure from the band’s past.

With the help of esteemed guests—vibraphonist Joe Locke, saxophonist Dave Liebman, trumpeter Tom Harrell, vocalist Kurt Elling—the orchestra ups the jazz ante by presenting a sterling package that includes a marvelous makeover of Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight,” where a flaring trumpet solo from Jonathan Powell would make Dizzy Gillespie proud. The rendition also highlights the prowess of Oscar Hernández, the orchestra’s leader, on piano. Jazz standards, however, don’t overwhelm the disc, with Hernández’s originals being granted a significant spotlight. The bandleader tends to infuse his writing with punchy rhythms, intricate polyrhythmic fire, satiny harmonies and, most crucially, lingering melodies. A highlight includes his gentle ballad “Silent Prayers,” where Liebman’s soprano melody soars across a billowing rhythm. The composer also pays tribute to Jerry and Andy González on the triumphant “Fort Apache,” which again affords a platform for the leader to unravel a commanding solo before helping propel the momentum with a montuno pattern.

From start to finish, Spanish Harlem Orchestra flaunts its jazz bona fides without dismissing its statement of purpose.