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Spanish Harlem Orchestra heats up North Side with singing, dancing

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Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, 9:45 p.m.

Outside, temperatures were hovering in the teens, but inside, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra was making sure there was plenty of heat to go around.

The 13-piece ensemble made its first stop in Pittsburgh with two shows Friday at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side and clearly showed the reason for its success. Its four albums all have been nominated for Grammy awards and it has won two of them.

Led by pianist/founder Oscar Hernandez, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra puts on a show more than a concert. Ray De La Paz, Marco Bermudez and Carlos Cascante not only sing, but they are constantly dancing in a coordinated manner that has each doing the same steps.

It was sort of like watching a Latin jazz marching band. While they sang, the five horn players swayed or shuffled behind them. Then, when the horns played, the singers went into their dance.

Watching was almost as good as listening.

Almost is the key work, though, because the pianist and his nine fellow instrumentalist produce a tight, exciting sound that is not to be ignored. The trumpets of Hector Colon and Manuel Ruiz offer a crisp, high-ranging sound that is balanced by the trombones of Reynaldo Jorge and Douglas Beavers along with the baritone sax of Jorge Castro.

From a version of the standard “You and the Night and the Music” to a sizzling “This Is Mambo” that ended the concert and had the crowd on its feet, the excitement slowed only for a pretty bolero done by the three singers.

The concert showed that interplay almost immediately with “SHO Intro,” its traditional opening featuring the band. But then the singers filed out, picking up on the line the horns were playing and turning the instrumental into a vocal.

In the next piece, though, “La Salsa Dura,” trumpeter Ruiz came to the front to offer an instrumental showpiece to a tune dominated by the voices. Hernandez often says he wants the band not to be dominated by anyone, but to star everyone, and that idea is clear.

The band did one piece without the singers, “Rumba Urbana,” which Hernandez said he wanted to include to fit in to the Guild's renown as a jazz site.

He needn't have worried.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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