Latin jazz summer packages usually do well at the box office in Los Angeles, and last week’s Latin Jazz Explosion reinforced the point, selling out all 17, 979 seats, according to Bowl management. Musically, the evening gradually gathered a head of steam from a dead start, with the ageless showman Tito Puente topping everyone as usual at the close.
Things didn’t seem sohot at the beginning, with veteran bandleader/pianist Eddie Palmieri trapped behind a horrible electric piano, saddled with a muddled Latin percussion team and a new electric bass player. The result was a heavy, soggy mess, temporarily brightened by trumpeter Brian Lynch’s pointed solos and Donald Harrison’s attempts to play be-bop sax over the leaden groove.
For Ruben Blades, singer/actor/politician, the Bowl gig may have been a farewell as he plans to return to Panama and possibly make a run for the presidency of that country. But it didn’t sound as if Blades is ready to hang up his maracas, not from the vigorous punch of his vocals, nor his spoken desire to return to the Bowl sooner than his last appearance (1989).
Seis del Solar, dominated by synthesizers crunching against the percussion, delivered the goods with a propulsive urgency missing from the Palmieri set. Blades continues to field a first-rate, jazz-drenched front line, anchored by the hard-nosed alto sax of Bobby Porcelli and Mario Rivera’s sterling work on flute and sax.
But Puente, the 70-year-old timbales king, still kept his hand on the pulse of the throng, trotting out his hit “Oye Como Va” yet again, and with uncondescending gusto.