Spanish Harlem Orchestra | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Spanish Harlem Orchestra 

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Since the 50s New York's bustling Latino music community has defined itself by its ability to develop new hybrids. That progressive instinct is a sign of vitality, but constantly pushing the music forward also risks obscuring the scene's rich history. To help keep that from happening, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra celebrates the classic sound of New York Afro-Cuban music from the 60s and 70s. Formed in 2000 by producer Aaron Luis Levinson, the group is mostly made up of veteran sidemen who've played under major figures like Mongo Santamaria and Tito Puente. They draw from the diverse repertoire of New York salsa and add a few compositions of their own, but in either case they emphasize how the timeless clave rhythm was adapted in the U.S. by two generations of Latino immigrants. Panamanian legend Ruben Blades--a vital figure in the 70s salsa explosion--guest stars on 2004's Across 110th Street (Libertad), but the band doesn't need him to cook when it has singers Ray de la Paz, Marco Bermudez, and Willie Torres. The propulsive horn section, which includes the brilliant trombonist Jimmy Bosch, executes the charts with razor-sharp precision, complementing the crosscutting rhythms of the three-man percussion team. The arrangements, most by leader and pianist Oscar Hernandez, allow for plenty of solo space, but the Spanish Harlem Orchestra is first and foremost a dance combo that stresses fiery grooves and soulful singing. Fri 11/18, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114, $23-$52.

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