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Music Review: Spanish Harlem Orchestra – Viva la Tradicion

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El tocadiscos esta descompuesto!  Well, get it fixed!  When this CD arrives, you’ll want your player in top working order to join in the fun.  The 13-member Spanish Harlem Orchestra, winner of the 2005 Grammy for “Best Salsa Album” celebrates its 10th year with the September 28 release of Viva la Tradicion—their fourth album.

“La Salsa Dura” opens the 12-song album with a lighthearted and lively piece that will get you moving and smiling. It’s hard to hear this song and not imagine the musicians and vocalists exhibiting big smiles while performing.  They’re having a good time and this track sets the tone for an uplifting and literally “moving” listening experience.

Oscar Hernandez is the leader of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra (SHO) after having worked with the Ruben Blades Band, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Julio Iglesias, and Earl Klugh, among many.  Hernandez also was heavily involved with Paul Simon’s Broadway musical, The Capeman. Simon returns the favor as co-executive producer here with Hernandez.

The SHO boasts 13 members, including three vocalists. Of the 10 musicians, four play brass instruments and three are listed as percussionists.  Hernandez is the piano player.  A guest vocalist joins the guys for track 12, “El Negro Tiene Tumbao,” a six-and-a-half-minute rollicking closer full of bravado and expression. 

The eighth track, “Nuestra Cancion” is a significant break from the otherwise high-spirited salsa theme.  The slower ballad is a nod to the history of the genre and is an example of beautiful music. 

“Rumba Urbana” is my favorite of the 12 tracks and features the brass and percussion sections (as do many of the songs) and is noteworthy for the classic big band jazz arrangement.  Hernandez also has a lively solo/improv opportunity here that further ads to the jazz motif.  Mitch Frohman contributes an attention-getting solo on saxophone.

Debra Hurd’s colorful cover illustration, reminiscent of Leroy Neuman, adds to the fun and is a visual delight. SHO’s tour schedule is available here.

Would I buy Viva la Tradicion?  There are so many ways to say it, (ya ya, da da, oui oui, and yes), but today, I’ll just say, “Si si!”  It’s too much fun to pass on.

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