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Jazz Review

Creativity Compensates in a Truncated 'Calle 54'

October 12, 2002|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Calle 54: The Concert," at Royce Hall Thursday night, turned out to be the Reader's Digest version of the highly praised Latin jazz film by director Fernando Trueba. The initially announced lineup of performers from the picture--Eliane Elias, Bebo Valdes, Chano Dominguez, Dave Valentin, Dave Samuels, Jerry Gonzalez and Giovanni Hidalgo--was a relatively modest representation from a production that also featured, among others, Gato Barbieri, Chucho Valdes, Paquito Rivera and the now-departed Tito Puente and Chico O'Farrill. And, when Bebo Valdes encountered travel restrictions that prevented a trip from Cuba, the list was reduced even further.

However, two of the acts on the bill--Elias and Dominguez--provided enough creative fireworks to more than compensate for any missing participants.

Less can be said for the opening segment. Despite stalwart efforts from trumpeter Diego Urcola, vibist Samuels and percussionist Hidalgo--including a particularly spectacular solo effort from the latter--too much of the set was dominated by the showboating of flutist Valentin's physical and musical antics. A good player when he focuses on the music, he seemed more concerned, in this outing, with dominating the stage.

Elias took the opposite stance. Seated at the piano with her back to the audience, she offered new, imaginatively jazz-driven renderings of the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. She focused on her world-class jazz improvising but neglected to include vocals that play a major role in her latest recording. Gonzalez, joining the Elias trio for a single number, offered an effective, Miles Davis-styled reading of the standard "Tenderly."

The most unexpected highlight, however, was the extraordinary flamenco jazz of Dominguez. Mixing his Bill Evans- and Bud Powell-influenced piano work with the melismatic flamenco vocals of Blas Cordoba and the rhythmic flamenco dancing of Tomas Moreno, he has a convincing musical hybrid--convincing on both an emotional and a creative level. Moving from a tango and a buleria to an alegria and a rumba (in which the six-piece ensemble was joined by Gonzalez, now playing percussion), Dominguez found fascinating connections between flamenco and jazz--the similar ways each employs the superimposition of 4/4 and 6/4 rhythms, the blues-like melodies, and the similarity of the improvisational intensity.

And when the Dominguez ensemble was greeted by a standing ovation, it seemed apparent that his music has the potential to add intriguing--and much needed--new sounds and rhythms to the contemporary jazz scene.

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