Long before becoming one of the most popular recording artists in salsa, pianist Larry Harlow was classically trained in piano and half a dozen other instruments. Nevertheless, it was the Latin music he heard while he was growing up in Spanish Harlem that influenced him most. Five gold albums later, no doubt he's glad it did.

In his current album, "Yo Soy Latino," Harlow does what he does best -- leading a brash 21-piece salsa orchestra through a collection of pungent dance numbers. Though he leads the band, he doesn't dominate it.

Apart from an occasional solo, the arrangements by Marty Sheller and Steve Guttman pay no special tribute to Harlow's insistent and rather bluesy keyboard style. Rather, his piano is just another instrument in a delightfully colorful percussion ensemble of timbales, maracas, congas, bongo, bass and the like. Harlow's dense chording frequently gives the music its distinctive lilt and engagingly syncopated rhythms, and offsets the recurring flourishes of trumpets and trombones.

The sheer size of the orchestra also allows for a more subtle instrumental blend than usual. Three violins, a cello and Bob Crawford's guitar -- which weaves a sinuous path through the arrangements -- bring a deeper texture to the music. But the sound of the orchestra is mostly as salsa should be -- festive and vibrantly alive. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM

LARRY HARLOW -- Yo Soy Latino (Fania Records JM 607). THE SHOW

LARRY HARLOW, Friday through Sunday at Chelsea's.