Monday, May 4, 2020

Latin Jazz & Big Band CD of the Month - "Spanish Harlem Orchestra: The Latin Jazz Project"

Latin Jazz & Big Band CD of the Month
Spanish Harlem Orchestra: "The Latin Jazz Project" (ArtistShare)
Rating: *****

A splendid CD already destined to appear in the Jazz Station list of "best albums of the year"! Flawless sonic quality and a gorgeous artwork too.

Multi-GRAMMY® Award Winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra expands their repertoire with the release of The Latin Jazz Project, due out on ArtistShare on May 22, 2020. After flashing glimpses of their Latin Jazz prowess over the course of their previous six recordings, SHO goes ‘all in’ on The Latin Jazz Project, their first full length Latin jazz release. A litany of top-tier jazz artists join the ensemble as featured guests soloists: Kurt Elling, Miguel Zenon, Tom Harrell, Dave Liebman, Bob Mintzer, Joe Locke, and others. This is a fan-funded project through ArtistShare.

For the past 17 years, Spanish Harlem Orchestra has earned their reputation as today’s premier salsa ensemble. Considered “the leading light of the salsa reconstruction movement” (Newsday), SHO has released six critically acclaimed albums including Anniversary (Artist Share), which most recently won the GRAMMY® Award for Best Tropical Latin Album. They have performed on the world’s top stages and at nearly every major jazz festival including those in Newport, Montreal, and Monterey. Especially through their live performances, SHO has successfully built a bridge between Latin and jazz music, evidenced by their countless standing ovations at festivals and critical acclaim from the press. The Latin Jazz Project builds upon that legacy and brings SHO full circle into the Latin jazz arena.
The Latin Jazz Project is a natural progression for Spanish Harlem Orchestra. For starters, SHO Artistic Director Oscar Hernández is considered one of the most important Latin jazz pianists of his generation. His storied career extends back four decades and includes performances and recordings with an impressive list of Latin music greats including Tito Puente, Machito, Celia Cruz, Conjunto Libre, and Willie Colon, among others. Hernández spent six years playing with Ray Barreto and appeared on five of his recordings including the seminal Rican/Struction. Hernández then went on to join Ruben Blades’ Seis Del Solar band and eventually became his Musical Director, charting the musical course for the salsa legend. Hernández soon became the Musical Director for Paul Simon as well as the orchestrator and arranger for Gloria Estefan.

As a leader, Hernández has released two Latin jazz albums with Origin records: The Art of Latin Jazz (2017) and Love The Moment (2019), which went on to receive four stars by Downbeat Magazine. Now, Hernández has melded his Latin jazz expertise with Spanish Harlem Orchestra’s signature salsa dura sound to produce an instant classic in The Latin Jazz Project, the ensemble’s first all-Latin jazz recording. “We have always been steeped in the tradition of Latin jazz,” says Hernández, adding, “…it makes sense for us to finally get to this point. I couldn’t be more proud of this project and this band.
Spanish Harlem Orchestra has long collaborated with jazz greats; in 2015, Chick Corea and Joe Lovano appeared on their self-titled release and Anniversary featured a guest appearance by Randy Brecker. The tradition continues on The Latin Jazz Project, which features an impressive cadre of jazz elite including Miguel Zenon and Kurt Elling (“Invitation”), Bob Mintzer (“Bobo”), Bob Franceschini (“Acid Rain”), Tom Harrell (“Los Palmas”), Jimmy Haslip and Dave Liebman (“Silent Prayers”). Jonathan Powell (“Round Midnight”), Michael Rodrigeuz (“Fort Apache”), and Joe Locke (“Latin Perspective”).

The Latin Jazz Project presents a new side to Spanish Harlem Orchestra. Co-producer and trombonist Doug Beavers says: “…we really wanted to present SHO in a different light with this project- that of a world-class ensemble that can go toe-to-toe with any renowned jazz ensemble or jazz orchestra in the world.  For this, we thought the vehicle of Latin Jazz gave us the best medium to explore how different jazz masters would mesh with the orchestra and explore the idiom.The results came out very natural sounding and exciting, as if these jazz greats had been performing with SHO for years.”

With The Latin Jazz Project, Spanish Harlem Orchestra adds to an impressive discography that showcases a dynamic music legacy built by their previous six releases. These recordings have garnered five GRAMMY®  nominations and three wins (in 2004 for sophomore album Across 110th Street, in 2010 for Viva La Tradicion, and as noted, last year for Anniversary).

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