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Vitality, versatility and a bit of diffusion

Latin jazz luminaries Cachao and Sandoval energize the Bowl, but tropical singer India seems out of place.

July 14, 2006|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Latin Jazz Night at the Hollywood Bowl started in high gear on Wednesday. That wasn't surprising, given the presence of bassist Israel "Cachao" Lopez and his 14-piece ensemble as the opening act. "Legendary" may be one of the most overused words in a critic's lexicon, but in Cachao's case the label is not only apt, but necessary.

Now 88, he has been a force in Cuban music since the late 1930s, a vital figure in the creation of the mambo and the emergence of improvisatory, jazz-related descargas. But it wasn't necessary to know anything about Cachao's history to connect with his music, which was alive and simmering from the first notes of his opening tune, the appropriately titled "Descarga Cachao."

With his sturdy bass lines driving the rhythm, the balance of the set was classic Cuban dance jazz, featuring high-flying solos from trombonist Jimmy Bosch, saxophonists Justo Almario and Rafael Palau and flutist Danilo Lozano. By the final number, "Yambu," the band was peaking, with complex, irresistibly propulsive rhythms surging beneath driving horn passages. It's a shame Cachao didn't have more than 45 minutes onstage to work his musical magic.

The pace continued with the arrival of the Arturo Sandoval sextet, opening its program with a high-speed, finger-busting "Real McBop." Trumpeter Sandoval and tenor saxophonist Ed Calle have front-lined together so long that they easily dash through phrases in unison that would be a challenge for many players to execute as solo lines.

Sandoval has updated his set with a few witty rap passages -- delivered in tandem with Calle -- and he displayed his versatility on piano and percussion, as well as his extraordinary trumpet work. The only missing element was his imaginative, incredibly mobile scat singing. Keyboardist Javier Concepcion provided powerfully supportive brass sample backgrounds and deliciously rhythmic montunas. And a showcase solo by Tomas Cruz on maracas added an astonishing redefinition of an instrument that is little more than a shaker.

Like Cachao, Sandoval, who also played for about 45 minutes, could have entertainingly filled much more time. The reason both their sets seemed limited was because of the hourlong set from Puerto Rican singer-songwriter India. Granting the high drama of her tropical style (a la Celia Cruz) and presumed potency of her drawing power (the Bowl has many seats to fill), it was still difficult to understand why a performer with a very different musical orientation was placed in the spotlight position on a Latin jazz program.

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