Welcome to my guide to some of my favorite Spanish-language music, stuff from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Latin America and beyond...


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Harlem River Drive "Harlem River Drive" (Roulette, 1971)
A Latin-soul Rosetta Stone. Anchored by Latin jazz legends Eddie and Charlie Palmieri, along with vocalist Jimmy Norman, this musical loveletter to the Southeast Bronx barrio is a super-funky Latin-soul groover that fits in quite nicely with the best salsa/funk experimentation of similar bands such as War, etc. This album is especially impressive considering it was recorded well before the main wave of the NY/Miami salsa scene, or similar crossovers such as the Fania All-Stars. This tilts well into Curtis Mayfield-ish soul/R&B territory, but definitely has its jazz and Latin roots. Ranging from heavy funk-drenched numbers like "Idle Hands" to avant-jazz explorations like the 10+ minute-long "Broken Home," this disc combines top-flight musicianship and socially-conscious lyrics with pure booty-shakin' fun. Highly recommended!


Harlem River Drive "Live At Sing-Sing, Volume 1" (Tico, 1972)
Also with Eddie Palmieri... I haven't heard this disc yet, but figured I'd throw it in as well... Musta been a pretty wild show!


Andy Harlow "Sorpresa La Flauta" (Vaya, 1972)
(Produced by Ismael Miranda)

It's a mixed bag on this early album; the opening tracks hearken back to the islands, with a heavy dose of straightforward guarachas, son montuno, and bolero material, sung in the classic old-time style. On Side Two (this was back in the vinyl era, remember...) things get much looser, and sloppier, as Harlow and the band toss off several pop-styled numbers, nods towards rock and R&B that they seemed resentful of recording. There's a pinched-nose "cha-cha-cha" rendition of "Winchester Cathedral" and a "shing-a-ling" teen ballad, which the female vocalist gamely tackles, despite the distracting, atonal trombone that wails behind her... One imagines that Harlow was forced by the label to record pop material, and this was what he thought would be a clever revenge. Decades later, it's just embarassing. The real latin dance stuff is swell, though, and gives a good indication of the strength of his future compositions.


Orchestra Larry Harlow "Gettin' Off/Bajandote" (Fania, 1967)
It's a mixed bag on this early album; the opening tracks hearken back to the islands, with a heavy dose of straightforward guarachas, son montuno, and bolero material, sung in the classic old-time style. On Side Two (this was back in the vinyl era, remember...) things get much looser, and sloppier, as Harlow and the band toss off several pop-styled numbers, nods towards rock and R&B that they seemed almost resentful of recording. There's a pinched-nose "cha-cha-cha" rendition of "Winchester Cathedral" and a "shing-a-ling" teen ballad, which the (unnamed) female vocalist gamely tackles, despite the distracting, atonal trombone that wails behind her... One imagines that Harlow was forced by the label to record pop material, and this was what he thought would be a clever revenge. Decades later, it's just embarassing. The real latin dance stuff is swell, though, and gives a good indication of the strength of his future compositions.


Orchestra Harlow "El Exigente" (Fania, 1971)
The great Ismael Miranda takes the lead vocals on these funky sessions, which are a holdover from the faddish mid-to-late '60s pachanga and boogaloo scenes... Still groping towards a clear articulation of the sleek, classic, aggressive "salsa" sound that would typify New York City and Miami-based dance music later in the '70s, Harlow and his band nonetheless hit some deep, funky grooves, with traces of North American R&B and soul music lurking in the mix. Not as transcendant as Harlow's best, later work, but still pretty fun.


Orchestra Harlow "Electric Harlow" (Fania, 1971)
Sailing into the smoother, sleeker style that would typify his classic '70s work, Larry Harlow produces a nice, mellow album with plenty of suave playing, and more fine vocals by Ismael Miranda. Not the sharpest performances or quite the full-on monster arrangements that these guys would perfect a couple of years later, but nice, solid salsa with a strong jazz backbone. This album gathers steam as it goes along... Definitely worth checking out!


Orchestra Harlow "...Presenta A Ismael Miranda" (Fania, 1971)
This opens up with a goofy '60s-styled R&B/pop riff, "Horsin' Up," which was apparently intended to be a spinoff of "The Tighten Up..." From there, though, it settles into a more standard Latin dance/salsa mode... Also includes a Spanish-language, salsa-fied version of "Grazing In The Grass" that's kind of a nice historical curio... All in all, it's an okay album, though not as dazzling or delectable as some of their other albums. Not a magical record, but fine nonetheless.


Orquestra Larry Harlow "Tribute To Arsenio Rodriguez" (Fania, 1972)
The New York salsa scene pays homage to tres player and pioneering bandleader Arsenio Rodriguez, just after his untimely death in 1971. This album features the normally light-touched Larry Harlow tackling a heavier, more muscular style, and though the rhythm is a little bit sluggish, the vocals (by Ismael Miranda) are pretty fine, and the band hits some nice grooves, especially on the Rodriguez originals, "Sueltala" and "El Terror." (Note: the sound quality on the CD reissue seems pretty bad; strong rhythm performances sound weakly mixed for some reason... It may be worth the extra effort to search out the original LP.)


Orchestra Harlow "Salsa" (Fania, 1974)
Larry Harlow and his crew play hard and fast... Maybe a little too fast and unrelenting, if you ask me, with a lot of solos and showboating by all concerned... But if you want to hear some classic, hardcore '70s salsa, this is about as forceful and flashy an album as you're ever likely to find. Definitely worth checking out -- if you're in the right mood, this might blow you away.


Larry Harlow "El Judio Maravilloso" (Fania, 1974)
With with vocals by Junior Gonzales.


Orchestra Harlow & Ismael Miranda "Con Mi Viejo Amigo" (Fania, 1976)
A really sizzling set, with Larry Harlow playing at his peak... The arrangements are super-funky and groovalicious, demonstrating the best of the '70s scene's hypnotic rhythmic power, swank and well-arranged, while still earthy and sensual. Tito Puente guests, though unfortunately his contributions are overshadowed by a showy, intrusive electric guitarist (on "Union De Dos," the only track on here I don't really like...) Vocalist Ismael Miranda is in top form as well... All in all, this is an exemplary salsa album, definitely recommended!


Orchestra Harlow "La Raza Latina - A Salsa Suite" (Fania, 1977)


Larry Harlow "Asi Soy Yo" (J&N, 1979)
With with vocals by Gary Carrion.


Larry Harlow "Yo Soy Latino" (Fania, 1981)


Havana Cuban Boys "Havana Cuban Boys" (Harlequin, 1994)
Mid-to late '50s Cuban dance music, with a heavily poppish touch to most of the tracks. The band itself was led by pianist Armando Orefiche, who was earlier in the reknowned Lecuona Cuban Boys (with several other reissue CDs also on the Harlequin label). Here, he's lifting riffs straight out of the Perez Prado stylebook, with driving rhythms and punchy brass -- it's pretty fun, with nice vocals from Raul Del Castillo, Humberto Cobo and Coco Fernandez; Bola De Nieve plays piano on a couple of ttracks as well... Groovy stuff from the heyday of the Latin dance scene.


Las Hermanas Lago "El Primer Trio Feminino De Cuba" (Ayva Musica, 2000)
Vintage recordings (from the 1950s?) of a folkie (in the North American sense) trio known for their radio work and extensive inter-American touring. They also covered ballad material from other Latin American countries although, I must admit, this disc didn't do much for me. Not dance music, just popular vocals.


Las Hermanas Lago "La Flor De La Canela"


Rafael Hernandez "1932-1939" (Harlequin, 1994)





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