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WEEKEND REVIEWS / Pop

Celia Cruz Rediscovers Her Passion at House of Blues

March 18, 1996|ENRIQUE LOPETEGUI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"I heard that the club didn't know who I was," Celia Cruz said playfully to the wildly enthusiastic, sold-out crowd early in her first-ever appearance Saturday night at the House of Blues. Then, she added, triumphantly, "Now they know."

Indeed, it was a night to remember--and an important one for Cruz herself.

Last summer at the Hollywood Bowl, the landmark Cuban singer seemed to struggle vocally so much that you began to wonder if she could ever recapture the passion and spirit that long ago made her the most popular and acclaimed singer in all of Latin pop.

But those doubts rapidly disappeared Saturday as Cruz, whose career began more than four decades ago in Havana, put on her best local performance in years.

Backed superbly by the Yari More orchestra, one of the busiest Afro-Cuban ensembles in town, Cruz seemed reinvigorated as she mixed songs from her last two albums, including the Grammy-nominated "Irrepetible" ("Unrepeatable"), with some prized works from the '70s.

For virtually the entire 90-minute set, Cruz injected her music with a spice and substance that characterizes the best of Latin dance music, but which is all too rarely found in the work of today's new crop of performers.

The night began with a stirring set by Johnny Polanco's orchestra, whose soulful mix of traditional and contemporary Afro-Cuban set the stage nicely for Cruz.

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