The sound of El Barrio brought to life once more by New York's finest salsa band...
Tim Nelson 2007
United We Swing is the third release from the thirteen-member Spanish Harlem Orchestra, led by Ruben Blades’ piano player, Oscar Hernandez, the world-renowned arranger and producer who has worked with everyone from Celia Cruz and Ray Barretto to Kirsty MacColl and Paul Simon (who guests on this album’s final track). If the album largely sticks to template of the previous releases, then this is no criticism, as it could hardly be improved upon. The SHO’s polish and dazzle is as refreshing as a blast of cold air on a sticky summer night.
The SHO are standard bearers for New York salsa, basing their approach on the musical legacy of El Barrio, the pulsating community of South Harlem. This third release mixes original compositions and classic covers, opening with the heavy salsa of “Llego La Orquestra” before harking back to Manhattan’s Palladium Ballroom with “En El Tiempo Del Palladium” and reminding us of the classic sounds of Tipica 73 and Fania with “Se Formo La Rumba” and “Ahora Si”, respectively. The pace gets even hotter with “Salsa Pa’l Bailador” and “Soy Candela”, and while it’s hard to single out particular instrumental moments when the general standard is so high, Hernandez himself contributes some fantastic piano solos on “Sacala Bailar” and “Que Bonito”, and there are some great horn sections on ‘Ahora Si” and “Mujer Divina”.
The programming is impeccable (suggesting that the ensemble may have responded to criticism from some quarters that previous albums were samey and even formulaic) with tasty arrangements not only from Hernandez but also Sonny Bravo, Gil Lopez, Angel Fernandez and Jose Febles. And if the pace slows towards the end, with a plena, a danzon and the closing reconfiguration of Paul Simon’s “Late in the Evening”, then that’s probably just as well, as you’ll need some refreshment before you put the album back to the start.