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United We Swing

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Album Review

Spanish Harlem Orchestra's third release isn't appreciably different from their first two, but that's not a criticism: as before, the 13-piece collective delivers a nonstop volley of pure neo-retro salsa dura that couldn't possibly be improved upon. Led by pianist Oscar Hernández, SHO takes its cues from the heyday of Tito Puente, Machito, and the other revered Latino bandleaders of the mid- to late 20th century. The coordinated horn blasts snap in and out with regularity, the percussion is ceaselessly dizzying, the nuanced solos impressive, and the vocalists all engaging. Most of the tunes here are originals, and the arrangements, by Hernández, vocalists Willie Tórres, Ray de la Paz, and others, are polished to perfection. Paul Simon is the big-name guest star this time out, taking a lead vocal on the album closer, his own "Late in the Evening," repaying a favor to Hernández, who worked with Simon on the latter's ill-fated Broadway musical The Capeman. It's actually the weakest track on an album that otherwise has none, if only because it feels out of context. But not to worry: this is Latin dance music the likes of which is rarely heard anymore, and that in itself is worthy of celebration. This CD was nominated for a Grammy award in 2007 for Best Tropical Latin Album.


Formed: 2000 in New York, NY

Genre: Salsa and Tropical

Years Active: '00s, '10s

A proud throwback to the classic era of Latin jazz big bands as exemplified by Tito Puente's classic salsa orchestra, Spanish Harlem Orchestra formed in 2000 under the tutelage of producer Aaron Luis Levinson and bandleader Oscar Hernandez. Best known as Rubén Blades' piano player and musical director, Hernandez had also worked with everyone from Celia Cruz and Ray Barretto to Kirsty MacColl and Paul Simon. (Hernandez arranged and produced the score for Simon's ill-starred Latin-influenced Broadway...
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United We Swing, Spanish Harlem Orchestra
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