Larry Harlow was very careful in making sure that musicians like congüero Frankie Rodriguez was given credit in this re-issue since he was left out of the line-up in the original Lp recording. He even listed the arrangers for me particularly proud of the work done by Marty Sheller on the Noro Morales’ tune, Rumbambola. True to Harlow style, the musician of Jewish ancestry did right by the Puerto Rican pianist who was popular in New York spots like the Stork Club and High Society during the 30s, 40s and 50s. Morales also played in Augosto (an Afro-Puerto Rican Jew) Coen’s big band before Mario Bauza and his Afro-Cubans ever hit the Big Apple.
In this rendition, Harlow plays in the lush rhythmic style of Noro enhancing the master’s original quintet sound with big band thunder throwing bouncy bata beats over Larry’s keyboard comps prefaced by a 6/8 ñañigo bridge that chequeres into the rumba and ends with a Chick Corea sounding twist. Quite amazing.
As are the vocals of the late, Albino Divino, Nestor Sanchez; underrated and unrecognized before his untimely death in 2003, Sanchez here jumps octaves, plays with the scales and does it all in a seamless poetry of improvised words that evoke a trained musician creating with his instrument rather than a singer fronting a band. Another Sheller arrangement, Con la Mayor Elegancia has Sanchez proudly claiming himself the champion of “soneros” literally providing a master vocal class with the tune. Add to all this the nasty, swinging flavor of Larry’s band and this is a “throw-down, kick-ass” dance number that takes no prisoners.
The following, Ponte a Bailar Mi Son Conmigo, arranged by Edwin Rodríguez is a lighthearted and joyful dance number written by Yanes Gomez that basically makes you feel good. A tribute to song and dance as remedy for all pain, Sanchez proposes we dance as he sings, improvising.
La Flor y la Espada, written by Mike Guagenti, again showcases the phenomenal vocalizing of Sanchez. Here the Albino overdubs his own harmonies while Harlow throws what sounds like a moog synthesizer electronic sounds into the mix. Driven by a tight percussive engine that crescendos into some tasty moñas coming up from a brass back line that includes Tony Cofresi on lead trumpet along with a Pete Nater and Charlie Miller, the tune is rounded off by the t-bones of Angel “Papo” Vasquez and Louis Kahn.
Para Mi Obatala starts as a dance number but don’t be fooled. It quickly evokes Afro-Cuban traditions that meet the 21st Century more than twenty years before the new millennium began. Written by Tata Guerra and arranged by Mark Weinstein the tune mixes Afro-Cuban with a real New York feel integrating bata drums deftly played by Milton Cardona, Frankie Rodriguez and Frankie Malabe. A dynamic timbal solo by Tony Jimenez talks Congo to the band, while the brass lines stand out uniformly only to lay back and make way for the bata finale.
A tribute to the Latin American country, Viva Caracas written by Guagenti and arranged by Louie Ramirez has a definite Ramirez mark with a doo-wop flavor within its dance style mambo and Latin American carnival feeling. Nestor again stands out in his vocalizing giving a holler to Oscar D’Leon and Dimención Latina with some wonderful trumpet work by a Chappotin sounding Pete Nater and Charlie Millie that would make even Maynard Ferguson’s hairs stand on end.
Caracas becomes an important venue for Latin music during this time as the Fania label was responsible for expanding the reach of the working bands beyond the traditional New York / Puerto Rico “airbus” as it was in the 50s & 60s. By the mid-70s, bands were working consistently throughout Latin America and parts of Europe.
Hardcore salsa bands during this time played a variety of genres as heard here in this lively “charanga” tune, “La Vida Tiene Su Cosa” written by Miguel Jorrin and arranged by Harry Max. Harlow solos here on a fender rhodes with some fancy fiddling by “Luisito” Kahn accompanied by Jazz flutist Artie Webb who goes tropical on this number.
Viente Años, written by Ana Teresa Vera and arranged by the great Charlie Palmieri showcases Nestor’s ballad style and the band’s range of dynamics and skilled musicians.
Harlow’s knack for mixing styles and genres is again highlighted in La Reina del Café. Written by Rudy Calzado, Salsa is mixed with Puerto Rican bomba in a highly stylized and technically deft dance arrangement by Sheller. Sporting a catchy coro featuring Ismael Quintana, Mike Guagenti and Adalberto Santiago, La Reina swings for both the dancer and the musician.
Overall, Rumbambola is a masterful work of diverse styles unmatched today. The tribute to master pianist Noro Morales, the nod to Caracas, Venezuela, the showcasing of musicians featured here coupled with the creativity and variety of the arrangers make Rumbambola a must have.
Orchestra Harlow: 1979
Tony Jimenez - Timbales, Percussion
Frankie Malabe Bongos, Bata, Percussion
Julio Romero Bass
Tony Cofresi Lead trumpet
Pete Nater trumpet
Charlie Miller trumpet
Louis Kahn trombone, violin
Angel Vasquez trombone
Frankie Rodriguez Congas
Larry Harlow Piano, moog, celeste, rhodes, clavinet
Nestor Sanchez Vocals
Milton Cardona bata, chequere
John Clark French horn
Jimmy buffington French horn
Steve Berrios Drums
Mike Collazo Drums
Art Webb flute
Bob Rose guitar
Eliot Randall guitar
Maki Kurukowa tres
Harry Max violin
Sal Matlock viola
Pat Dixon cello
Ismael Quintana maracas, güiro, coro
Adalberto Santiago coro
Mike Guagenti coro
Eddie “Guagua” Rivera Fender bass
Arrangements by: Larry Harlow, Marty Sheller, Harry Max, Charlie Palmieri,
Luis Cruz, Louie Ramirez, Edwin Rodriguez and Mark Weinstein
Produced by: Larry Harlow
Cover art: Steve Quintana III - Quingraphics Productions, Inc.
Recorded in: New York City
This album is dedicated to Ralph Castrello for 13 loyal years.