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World Music CD Reviews North American

THE SPANISH HARLEM ORCHESTRA

By Jason Ferguson
Published March 17, 2006

Un Gran Dia en el Barrio
Ropeadope/Atlantic

In New York, as in life, things get interesting at the extremes. The lower tip of Manhattan has yielded American punk rock, while up past 110th Street, Harlem is renowned as the epicenter of African-American culture. Likewise, Spanish Harlem has been a haven for Puerto Ricans and other Latino cultures in New York. And it’s that neighborhood that is fêted on Un Gran Dia en el Barrio, an album unabashedly themed after the success of Buena Vista Social Club. However, unlike the Social Club’s highlighting of acknowledged (if underappreciated) masters of Cuban music, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra chooses instead to focus on the unsung (and somewhat unknown) heroes of Spanish Harlem’s long-flourishing salsa scene. Led by pianist/producer/arranger Oscar Hernandez, this taut group of players invigorates songs both well known (“Llego la Banda”) and less known (“Quaguanco”) with a modern energy. Though some purists may bemoan the dry production–there is little of the raw energy of a live salsa performance here–the end result is a lively peek into a neighborhood that’s often overlooked outside of its own boundaries.