Thursday, August 29, 2013

Larry Harlow and the Latin Legends Band at the East River Park Amphitheater

Larry Harlow (left) and guest Jose Alberto (right)
When salsa was New York’s most popular Latin dance music, Larry Harlow (born Lawrence Ira Kahn on March 20, 1939) was one of its celebrated bandleaders. He produced over 260 albums and recorded 29 salsa albums with Orquesta Harlow and under his own name since 1966. The irony that he was not Puerto Rican, but a Jewish man from Brooklyn, was not lost on him – he even recorded an album called El Judio Maravilloso (The Marvelous Jew).

Larry Harlow and the Latin Legends Band closed the Summerstage series tonight with a free concert at the East River Park Amphitheater. In recent decades, salsa has given way in popularity to merengue, reggaeton and other Latin musics, but you never would have known from the crowd that gathered even outside the amphitheater. Fans celebrated the return of salsa with Puerto Rican flags, maracas and cowbells, and there was plenty of dancing throughout the dense seating area. Harlow’s 11-piece band played like it was 1975 – no synthesizers, beat boxes, pre-programmed sounds or disc jockeys. Fronted by two young vocalists, one from Hoboken, New Jersey, and the other from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, singing in Spanish, Harlow played electric piano and let his various percussionists and horn players shine. Between songs, Harlow spoke in Spanish and English, reminding the audience of the legacy of salsa music and joking that he lived just outside the park on Delancey Street. Contemporary vocalist Jose Alberto, also known as el Canario (the canary), made a surprise guest appearance on one song. The 95-minute set was an exhibit of old-time Latin music in its excellence.