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POP MUSIC REVIEW : 'Combinacion': Salsa's Dream Team : Some of the Best of the Genre Show Up for Live Presentation of Album


Salsa music has been steadily gaining popularity in Los Angeles in the '90s--as evidenced by record sales and an increasing number of clubs devoted to the sensual, rhythmic style. The local salsa celebration moved Saturday night to the Hollywood Bowl, where a spectacular display of power and musicianship showed why fans are embracing the sound, which has long been associated chiefly in the United States with New York City.

The all-star concert--a virtual Dream Team of salsa music sponsored by RMM Records, the most challenging Latin music label in the country--was the live presentation of "La Combinacion Perfecta," a 1993 RMM album featuring duets of today's best salsa singers.

Despite the absences of some of the album's key artists (including Marc Anthony, Domingo Quinones and Van Lester), performers such as cigar-wielding India, Ray de la Paz, Ray Sepulveda and Johnny Rivera performed deftly. They were backed by the outstanding RMM orchestra led by Sergio George, who is also salsa's top record producer, and the lively RMM dance company.

In a night of exceptional performances, three stood out, starting with the duet by Tito Nieves and Tony Vega on "Tu por aqui y yo por alla" ("You Around Here and Me Around There"), which rapidly turned the Bowl into a massive dance party.

Also memorable: a 20-minute version of "Soneros de bailadores" (roughly "Singing for the Dancers") sung by Cheo Feliciano and Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez, with Tito Puente on timbales, Giovanni Hidalgo on congas and Luis "Perico" Ortiz on trumpet.

The other key moment was a rendition of "Llego el sabor" ("The Taste Is Here") by Oscar D'Leon and Jose Alberto, who is known as "El Canario." This latter number brought together Venezuela's D'Leon, arguably today's most gifted salsa singer, and the Dominican Republic's "El Canario," an underrated, but first-class performer.

As expected, Celia Cruz--wearing a tall hairdo and dancing faster than India herself--closed dynamically with "El Son de Celia y Oscar" ("The Son of Celia and Oscar"), sharing the microphone with D'Leon.

For the finale, the entire cast joined singing the evening's title theme, with the enthusiastic crowd yelling for more.

Several of the singers had been stopped cold on stage during the night when spotting one member of that crowd--Marlon Brando--in the front row. They saluted him with words, stretching hands and even mentioning him in their soneos (improvisational lyrics).

Not sure if Brando was an extra motivation, but the concert--aside from the attendance, which only about half filled the Bowl--exceeded all expectations and did justice to an exemplary branch of the uneven world of Latin music.

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