LIVE: Spanish Harlem Orchestra / Alex Torres y Sus Amigos @ Music Haven, 07/08/2022

The multi-Grammy Award-winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra confidently earned their reputation at Music Haven on Sunday, while a hot local combo took up the challenge to open for visitors to the big city.

Both made virtuosic Latin jazz on this special evening. Prior to the show, Music Haven’s Summer Social offered food and beverages at the Tom E. Isabella Picnic Pavilion, where Dan Sheehan was honored as Music Maven of the Year. The mood was happy at this meeting after a two-year Covid break. Some paying attendees, including longtime Music Haven volunteer Isabella herself, attended in shorts and Hawaiian shirts, while elects and hopefuls wore office attire.

Spanish Harlem Orchestra

Of course everyone got the music for free; and just as Thursday’s double-header featuring touring stars DakhaBrakha and talented local folk group Korinya brought Ukrainians to Music Haven, Sunday’s show drew a large Latino crowd.

Alex Torres y Sus Amigos distilled the dancefloor energy of Torres’ larger and better known Latin Orchestra into a sizzling core of virtuosic players. Their four-song set kept most fans in their seats, even as a surprise squall of rain rolled in, creating a brief rainbow.

Torres plays bass, which is front in his orchestra, but sat alongside drummer Tony Garcia, behind trombonist Ken Olsen and trumpeter Dylan Canterbury, and played bongos or hand percussion. Keyboardist Tyler Giroux and bassist Dylan Perillo completed the rhythm section’s arc behind the horns.

The pace and mood were high as Torres and his hand-picked sextet sizzled through Paquito Rivera’s “Chucho”, the Dizzy Gillespie/Chano Pozo classic “Manteca”, Luis Bonfa’s even more famous “Manha de Carnaval” and Horace Silver’s set-closing “Gregory”. is here.” Olsen and Canterbury got most of the solos and played lots of call-and-response riffs, but Giroux earned some limelight on “Manteca,” a steamy percussion duet.

(Note – Credit goes to Dylan Canterbury for the setlist here.)

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Alex Torres (left), Tony Garcia

The Spanish Harlem Orchestra, dressed all in black pants and open-buttoned white shirts, came out to cheers and great anticipation. In the back there were five brass players on pedestals, in front the rhythm section and three singers – and the beat was right in front.

They sang and played proudly of the barrio – I think their first tune was “Un Gran Dia En El Barrio” – and ignited the Latin pride of the crowd in mostly fast or mid-paced tunes. Busy beats clattered rapidly, overlaid with horns punching in and out as entire sections or individual solos. Vocals did the same, harmonies close and powerful and solo voices banging forward. When the horns—baritone saxist Mitch Frohman, trombonists Doug Beavers and Noah Bless, trumpeters Hector Colon and “Maneco” Ruiz—played section parts, the singers danced behind their mics; when they sang, the buglers took steps together.

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Spanish Harlem Orchestra

Jeremy Bosch did double duty, playing the flute at times, while fellow singer Carlos Cascante contributed to the songwriting late in the set on the exhilarating anthem “La Musica Latina”. Frohman dragged his large baritone saxophone in front of a microphone for his solos; Trumpeter Ruiz did the same. Founder and main composer Oscar Hernandez led from his keyboard but didn’t have to play much solo to shape the music throughout.

Gerardo Madera’s bass was the loudest sound, the hallmark of a dance band, while percussionists George Delgado and Jorge Gonzalez and hyperactive timpani player Luisito Quintero set up a galloping clatter.

Proud of their new album Imagines Latinas, they played much of it on Sunday in smooth performances that showed they had settled in well with their fresh material.

Vocalist Anthony El Monte (substituting for Marco Bermudez) gave “De Mi Para Ti” a sweetly candid reading while Ruiz sang solo alongside.

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Spanish Harlem Orchestra

Cascante starred in “Sentimento Y Son,” singing profusely, then getting the crowd into the beat by leading complex, massed handclaps. “Mambo 21” introduced Bosch’s flute, while Ruiz joined in on the trumpet and Quintero’s timpani broke through in this unified melody, which they welded together from short riffs at just the right points.

In fact, the whole set flowed like this: big riff melodies built up of short, punchy parts where everything fell into place.

The Music Haven season continues on Sunday, August 13 with the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra – now part of the Proctor’s Collective – playing film scores and other favourites. 7 p.m. Free.

Photo gallery by Rudy Lu

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