Saturday, June 01, 2002

Salsa in the city? Yes, please

Concert review

By Chris Varias
Enquirer contributor

        The Cuban music explosion of the late 1990s forgot all about Cincinnati. When Buena Vista Social Club, the combo at the forefront of the craze, and its numerous offshoots were crisscrossing America and playing to sold-out rooms, the Queen City was left out of the routing.

        Arturo Sandoval broke the drought this weekend. A big-name Cuban musician has finally come to town. It's way too late, but it's a step in the right direction.

        Mr. Sandoval, the Cuban-born composer and jazz musician who defected to the United States 12 years ago and whose story served as the basis for the HBO biopic For Love or Country, is the star of the Cincinnati Pops' weekend-long engagement “Hot Latin Nights.” And judging by his performance with his five-man band at Music Hall Friday night, Mr. Sandoval might be the perfect musician for introducing Latin music to Cincinnati's ears.

        Although his hour-long set featured a couple blazing salsa selections, most of the performances were tempered by American music touches, usually either the soft orchestral stirrings of Erich Kunzel's Pops or jazz arrangements and riffing, especially Mr. Sandoval's numerous trumpet runs indebted to his hero Dizzy Gillespie.

        In fact, it wasn't a straight-salsa tune that most turned off the crowd. It was a song filled with American-style jazz improvisation that Mr. Sandoval introduced as “A Cuban Man In Cincinnati.” The sprawling piece, featuring Mr. Sandoval scat-mimicking electric and upright bass solos, was enough to send a few people to the exits.

        The same can't be said for that other esteemed composer of Latin melodies, Barry Manilow. Sen~or Manilow's “Copacabana” was a crowd favorite in the first set, the 40-minute Pops-only segment of the show.

        “Hot Latin Nights” repeats at 7 p.m. tonight at Music Hall.


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- Salsa in the city? Yes, please
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