Larry Harlow / Orchestra Harlow

Heavy Smokin'

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Larry Harlow's debut release in the Fania family, 1965's Heavy Smokin' helped to establish him in the New York salsa explosion as an authoritative yet non-Latino voice, very uncommon in the day. Considering the youth of the movement, there was not a long enough time line to produce informed, qualified converts; most of the music was being made by native sons. Harlow, working as a bandleader and recording for the premier salsa label in the world, and affectionately dubbed "el judío marvilloso" (the marvelous Jew), had clearly won the respect not only of fans, but also of the most important movers and shakers of the day.

As a disciple of the great Arsenio Rodiguez, so much so that his nickname was designed to mimic Rodriguez's title, "el ciegito marvilloso," Harlow's attention to songcraft and arrangement is authentic and magnificent. The conjunto sound that Rodriguez branded is appreciable, and skillfully updated. Harlow's horn lines and rhythm section figures are both in keeping with the stylistic direction of Fania and with the heritage-conscious influence of Rodriguez. Heavy Smokin' has the characteristic warm, fuzzy tone of mid-'60s Fania -- audible and pleasant, if not sharp. Unfortunately, Harlow's deft piano figures are not as clear or pronounced as one might like. It would be nice to hear the pianist who captured the imagination of a genre that was in both its artists and audience ubiquitously Latino. What is audible is truly marvilloso.

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