Spanish Harlem Orchestra ‘Anniversary’ CD (ArtistShare) 4/5

If you could choose a sound to describe each city, New York’s would definitely be Spanish Harlem Orchestra’s Anniversary. With the banging drums and the blaring horns, the salsa dura of SHO (as they’re known to fans) encapsulates the rhythm and flavour of a hot day in The City. “Anniversary”, the group’s sixth album, celebrates the all-star salsa big band’s 15-year anniversary giving us a huge helping of what makes them so great. Anniversary builds on the dynamic legacy of their previous five releases. It is everything you expect from a great salsa album with those vibrant horns and movement inducing drums.

Anniversary made me smile multiple times, and while salsa isn’t necessarily my music of choice, SHO gave me what I call “cooking music”. This is high praise, I promise. Anniversary is the kind of music you listen to while cooking a big meal for the people you love. This album gets you through the tedium of chopping the onion (provided you’re careful, of course) and puts you in the right energy for loving on your family. For me, cooking for my family is one of my favourite activities. I have high standards for the music I play while I cook because I want to dance. This has been in heavy rotation since I got my hands on it. Then, of course, you can keep Anniversary playing while you entertain, giving everyone a chance to get on your level.

The album starts with “Esa Nena”, a fun upbeat song that makes you want to grab a partner to spin you across the (kitchen) dancefloor, smiling the whole time. It’s a great way to start off because not only is it fun but it shows the music dexterity and overall genius the group possesses. Other standouts include “Somos Uno” which features Randy Brecker. The horn is such an important part of any salsa band but this song really gives the horn its time in the spotlight, which makes sense, I suppose, as Brecker is a Grammy-winning trumpeter. SHO gives us a good mix of songs with and without lyrics. I enjoy this because I can sing along with the lyrics, or I can imbue my own meanings based on where I’m at that day. Both are important as a listener. Sometimes I want to be told, other times I want my hips to dictate the meaning.

Spanish Harlem Orchestra is dedicated to the sounds of the barrio and throughout Anniversary, they stay true to salsa dura with the raw, organic and vintage sound defined by the genre. You won’t get any novel interpretations of salsa here, but for a delightfully pure sound, you’ve come to the right place. SHO is on a mission to expand its audience to those who love great music, not just Latin music, taking salsa dura to ever-newer places. Grounded in the past, while focused on the future, they strive to keep the music relevant, while creating a unique and fresh approach. And that approach is working for them. Anniversay marks the group’s third Grammy, this time for “Best Tropical Album”. Spanish Harlem Orchestra has once again set the standard.

Molly Gallegos