Spanish Harlem Orchestra at Handelsbeurs, Ghent (April 20th 2008)
Click pictures for originals. © Handelsbeurs/Wannabes 2008
Last sunday, the temperature rose above 20°C in Ghent for the first time this year, and I bet the Spanish Harlem Orchestra had something to do with that. The 14-member salsa outfit set the beautifully restored Handelsbeurs on fire with an afternoon of infectious rumba and salsa del Barrio. Maybe you remember SHO from their 2007 album United We Swing, a timewarp into salsa discotheques from the 50s to the 70s (read our review here!)
Lead by pianist/director Oscar Hernandez, the orchestra performed like a well-oiled machine - even a little too routinely at the beginning, when the songs lacked soul. Hernandez himself didn't really have his mind set on the concert, sitting passively behind the piano as if he was more concerned about his wife and kids back home. But all that was more than compensated by the fire and enthusiasm of the three vocalists, Rey de la Paz (in the picture above), Willie Torres and Marco Bermudez, who took turns in impressing us with vocal improvisations, cheesy dance steps and charismatic audience encouragements.
The concert started off politely with a formal introduction of all 14 band members, exactly how United We Swing starts too (here's the line-up: 4 horns, sax, flute, congas, timbales, bongos, bass, piano and 3 vocals). But from "El Tiempo Del Palladium" - about a well-known venue in Harlem - the tone was set: nostalgic but steamy salsa, rumba and guaguanco, uniting the best of decades of Nuyorican music.
"Se Formó la Rumba" was the kickoff for the numerous dancing schools and salsa couples to take over the dancefloor - a very suitable wooden floor by the way. And we were quite bummered that our dance partner couldn't make it :)
We caught a first glimpse of the impressive musical abilities of the band during "Pa' Gozar", when each member was allowed some solo time. Especially the percussionist trio was tight as hell during the whole concert, not missing one beat while chatting and laughing away.
After an hour of intense swinging, the vocalists took a break, and the fierce salsa dura was replaced by jazzy instrumentals. "Danzón For My Father" started with a stirring solo by Hernandez himself, and made us think of the legendary Rubén Gonzales (of Buena Vista Social Club fame). The weak bolero "Espérame En El Cielo" was the only flaw in the two-hour set, but was soon forgiven: the careful tempo building in "Salsa Pa'l Bailador" and the rhytmical rapture of "Ariñañara" brought the concert to an explosive height. Only one bis song ("Sacala Bailar"), but when that bis lasts more than ten minutes and makes everyone go out of their minds, nobody minds!
Thanks to Greenhouse Talent!
Spanish Harlem Orchestra - Se Formó La Rumba
mp3 buy@iTunes buy@Amazon
Spanish Harlem Orchestra - Danzón For My Father
mp3 buy@iTunes buy@Amazon