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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Was the Salsa Too Hot for Bowl Crowd? : It Definitely Wasn't a 'Latin Jazz' Audience, as the Giants of the Genre Found Out


At the end of the "Latin Jazz Explosion" on Tuesday at the Hollywood Bowl, Tito Puente achieved what had seemed impossible during the previous 2 1/2 hours: breaking the ice and making the crowd dance in the aisles.

It was a near-capacity crowd that had chatted, picnicked, laughed and held family discussions while Eddie Palmieri, Ruben Blades and Tito Puente offered a sample of some of the most important Latin music of the second half of the century.

Five-time Grammy winner Palmieri opened the show with a 40-minute journey through all aspects of his music. Playing piano and directing his seven-piece orchestra, the New Yorker offered both sustained salsa grooves and long compositions that represent the ultimate in Latin fusion.

Unfortunately, Palmieri's short set predicted the absurd concept of the whole evening: three geniuses of Latin music reduced to abridged versions of themselves, playing for an audience that for the most part was definitely not their crowd.

Blades' frustration was evident from the very beginning. After opening with a spirited version of his hit "Caminando" ("Walking"), the Panamanian grabbed the microphone and said pointedly, "I won't talk very much tonight. We came here to play music, not to talk."

His set was even shorter than Palmieri's: "Cuentas del Alma," Cesar Miro's Peruvian waltz "Todos vuelven," "Plantacion adentro" (from Blades' years with Willie Colon) and "Muevete," his anti-racist adaptation of the hit by Cuba's Los Van Van. Blades said that he'd rather play a longer set, and then he was gone. It was probably his last show in Los Angeles, at least for some time, since he's going into politics in Panama.

After Blades' bittersweet performance, Puente closed the show by adding some spice to the evening. Several people were literally falling asleep in their boxes (to the puzzlement of die-hard fans nearby) and throngs were leaving the Bowl with their picnic baskets when the king of timbales grabbed his last card and began playing his greatest hit: "Oye como va," popularized worldwide by Santana in the early '70s.

It was like pressing a button that changed the whole night. Hundreds of salsa and Latin jazz fans descended from the cheap seats and occupied the emptied boxes and aisles, doing for two songs what they couldn't for the rest of the night.

When Puente finished a stirring version of Beny More's "Que bueno baila usted," the crowd wanted more from him, Blades and Palmieri. But the show was over, the emcee announced, "because it's already past 11"--the Bowl's curfew time.

It was a major disappointment, not because of the quality of the performances (all of them were impressive), but because these significant artists were not allowed to do what they do best--stretch out and play without watching the clock.

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