“La Raza Latina,” composer-pianist Larry Harlow’s hour-plus Latin big band extravaganza, drew thousands to Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors’ penultimate concert last week, proving that driving, multi-layered live music has staying power decades after its creation. “A Salsa Suite” featured vocalists Ruben Blades and Adonis Puentes, choreographed couples and a 40 piece band with strings and extraordinary soloists on trumpets, congas, flute, saxes and violins. Harlow conducted the music he’d recorded in 1978 but never performed before. Salsa — combining Afro-Cuban rhythms and singing styles with big band jazz pyrotechnics — lives! But you knew that, right . . . ?
The music, its creators and its audience exemplified New York City’s crossover/mix & match/curiosity-beyond-borders culture. Harlow, a 71-year-old Brooklyn native self-described as “El Judio Maravilloso,” was raised and educated musically, studied in Cuba before the revolution, helped establish Fania Records in the mid 1960s, became a Santeria priest (evidently no conflict with his Judaism) and produced hundreds of ambitious performing and recording projects, including the salsa opera Hommy, based on The Who’s Tommy. He’s always gone for epic structures, bold musical gestures, dramatic male singers and fundamental beats. He claims to be the first to have introduced Yoruba ritual bata drums to secular settings. Here’s a video of Harlow, conguero Patato Valdez and timbalero Nicky Marrero, plus Sanabria — but no bata drums: