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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Percussion Structures Los Papines

November 06, 1996|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When the Cuban drum ensemble Los Papines dashed on stage at Veterans Wadsworth Theater on Monday, images of Havana's famed Tropicana nightclub instantly came to mind. Dressed in trim tuxedo trousers, cummerbunds and glistening, sequined jackets, the four brothers who make up the ensemble--Luis, Alfredo, Jesus and Ricardo Abreu--appeared ready for a full evening of Ricky Ricardo-style merriment.

But appearances can be deceiving. The veteran group comes from a musical tradition in which entertainment, audience interaction and carefully planned programming exist comfortably with artistic creativity and musical imagination.

Their program--a nonstop array of rapid-fire rhythms, flashy dance steps, powerful vocals and sing-alongs--was enjoyable on the level of easygoing, foot-tapping diversion.

At one point, two of the players leaped off the stage, tossing percussion instruments back and forth to the audience as they moved through the hall. In another segment, the quartet humorously led the listeners through a melody, using (accurately) the do-re-mi of classical solfeggio. The performance was greeted, appropriately, by cheers and shouts of encouragement--mostly in Spanish--from the overflow crowd.

The colorful exterior of Los Papines' presentation, however, was supported by an awesome, sometimes almost offhandedly adept display of complex percussion work, most of it structured around the quartet's trademark lineup of conga drums. And, amazingly, it was all accomplished with no guitars, keyboards or horns--nothing more than their percussion instruments, their voices and their charismatic personalities. But it was all they needed.

* Los Papines appear on Nov. 23 at the Ash Grove, 250 Santa Monica Pier, 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. $15. (310) 656-8500.

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