Orchestra Harlow / Larry Harlow

La Raza Latina: A Salsa Suite

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Larry Harlow's flair for the ambitious re-emerged in 1977 -- four years after Hommy: A Latin Opera -- when he recorded and released La Raza Latina: A Salsa Suite, which aimed to survey the entire history of salsa, from Africa to the Caribbean to 52nd Street and beyond. For three days in January, Harlow assembled 30 musicians to play arrangements created by himself, along with Marty Sheller, Louis Ortiz, and Eddie Martinez. (The roster included two spots for French horn players alone.) Although the concept sounds experimental and academic, the results are immediate and physical. The opener is "La Raza Latina," with little of the traditional to it -- just a busting number perfect for any salsa fan, ambitious or not. It's only with the second track that Harlow and his group begin the journey, concentrating on percussionists to evoke the "back to Africa" vibes. Each of the suite's four parts begin with the traditional, but evoke plenty of contemporary vibes, culminating in the finale, "Futuro," which ably unites Africa and the New World, percussion and brass in a vibrant summation of salsa's effect on music. The performances are regal, and the music is occasionally breathtaking. It's a continuous peak with few valleys, which can make for an exhaustive listen, but it's clear that Larry Harlow outdid himself with La Raza Latina: A Salsa Suite.

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