Larry Harlow is a performer, composer, arranger, and producer at the forefront of many technical, musical, and conceptual innovations. This album is a true classic—from the music to the metal graphics artwork by Pablo Rosario’s brother, Charlie.
Recorded live at Sing Sing on January 16, 1974, listeners of this album can quickly hear that the musicians came to play hard from the very first note. In a recent conversation, Harlow talked about this album being one of his best recordings and how the enthusiasm of the largely Latino audience positively affected the performance. This was the only Latin album recorded in the quadrophonic stereo format. The basic concept was similar to today’s surround-sound but the means of achieving the four channels of audio varied across formats. As good as true quad sounded, it was doomed by incompatibility and technical variations within formats. Harlow took advantage of the new technology, recording the album on location with an RCA 8-track unit and mixing the album by essentially spinning around in a suspended rattan chair that faced four speakers. The Fania sound was crafted by New York musicians who added a distinct musical sensibility and swing to Cuban son and other genres from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. In the process, they transformed the music into something new. “Live in Quad” provides an opportunity to hear this musical transformation, since most of the music at this concert consists of compositions by the iconic Cuban composer and tres player, Arsenio Rodríguez. In the 1950s, Harlow made several trips to Cuba where he befriended and followed Rodríguez. In New York, he was able to play with his hero and ultimately dedicated an entire album to this great tres player and composer. For Harlow, the overdubbed piano interacts with the live clavinet section, simulating the interaction of the tres and piano in Rodríguez’s records. This record sounds as exciting and fresh as it sounded 32 years ago.
“Señor Sereno”, a major hit for Harlow with Ismael Miranda, opens the album. Junior Gónzalez, who recorded Hommy with Harlow, provides his own take of the song. Personally, this particular performance epitomizes the Fania sound: great ensemble performance, swing, and energy.
A feature for González in Hommy, “Gracia Divina” builds in intensity with bursts of brilliant fills by Tony Jimenez throughout Harlow’s guajeo’s and the horn section’s powerful swing.
Harlow’s treatment of Compay Segundo’s “Mayarí” features the artful vocals of Justo Betancourt. Prior to this recording, Harlow and Betancourt’s association included several productions such as Pa Bravo Yo and Hommy. Dig Lewis Kahn’s violin solo and the subsequent charanga vibe of the tune!
“Jovenes Del Muelle” is another Cuban classic, here arranged by the great Barry Rogers. The arrangement and performance evoke the classic conjunto sound while sounding modern. The performance includes some great trombone solos, a short bass and piano conversation, and a tasty bass solo by Eddie Guagua Rivera.
To date, Harlow is probably best known for his rendition of “La Cartera”. This Sam Burtis arrangement is a lesson in craft. Note the influence of Lilí Martínez, Arsenio’s pianist and arranger, during Harlow’s solo. Some great trumpet solos are followed by another fine violin solo from Lewis Kahn.
“Tumba Y Bongo” was originally a feature for Rodríguez’s percussion section called Kila, Quique y Chocolate. This Mark Weinstein arrangement features an exciting back and forth between Pablo Rosario and Tony Jimenez. The crowd goes wild when Jimenez picks up the drum during his solo.
“Sueltala” serves as a showcase for Junior González’s vocal improvisations as well as offering exciting solos from Reinaldo Jorge and Nicky Marrero.
“Arsenio” is the title track from Harlow’s dramatic tribute album to his musical hero. Justo Betancourt adds his sabor matancero to the perfomance and Tony Jimenez turns in another great solo.
On “Descarga Final”, Harlow lets everyone in the band strut his stuff and the singers trade soneos in a friendly exchange. Guagua offers another impressive solo while the percussionists try to steal the show. Enjoy!
Written by Benjamin Lapidus, Ph.D.
Arsenio / Orchestra Harlow
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