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Pop Music Review

Salsa Sizzles Under Sonora Poncena

May 17, 1999|ERNESTO LECHNER

Puerto Rico's Sonora Poncen~a puts to shame most of the salsa manufactured in Cuba these days. In a stunning show on Friday at the Hollywood Park Casino, veteran pianist Papo Lucca and his 12-piece band brought forth the qualities that make Afro-Cuban music such a powerful experience.

Marked by a rhythmic precision of an almost mathematical nature, Poncen~a's salsa is also defined by its members' seasoned aplomb and their ability to constantly introduce breaks in the songs, creating a dizzying effect that pushes you straight to the dance floor.

At the center of it all lies Lucca's fluid piano playing, which brings to mind the explosiveness of Eddie Palmieri, without the stylistic eccentricities. Lucca's spiraling improvisations on traditional salsa keyboard motifs are so packed with spice that they virtually eclipse the vocal power of his four lead singers.

The pianist's exquisite taste and immaculate sound were showcased in a marvelous 10-minute solo during a hard salsa version of Machito's classic "Yo Soy la Rumba," intertwined with the Oscar Leon hit "Se Necesita Rumbero." And when it was time to perform new material, Poncen~a passed the test with flying colors. Dedicated to all the unattractive women of the world (because nobody ever sings to them), the hilarious "Fea" was proof enough that Poncen~a does more than just rely on the classic hits of its 30-year history.

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