Tito's Top Percussion

The audience members who suffered through that were rewarded with an extraordinary concert. Torres demonstrated his virtuosity as both trombone player and bandleader in a rousing set of Latin jazz with his quintet. Singer Israel Kantor joined them for several numbers, including a stirring rendition of Beny More's hit ballad "Como Fue," and scatting with Torres on "Miami Blues."

Nearly an hour after they finished, Puente took the stage for what he likes to call a "sit-down concert." Through a series of Latin jazz numbers, the incredibly tight band played like a tag team, with conga, piano, bass, and bongos trading riffs with the trumpets, trombones, and sax. Percussive rumbas gave way to cha-cha-chas and brassy blues, always with Puente's characteristic fervor and passion. The outstanding musicians included conguero Jose Madera, reedsman Mario Rivera (dazzling on both sax and flute), and bassist Bobby Rodriguez, a long-time Puente musician who also played with Machito's band.

For a segment of Latin standards and mambos, Puente brought on a Dominican singer named Yolanda Duque. A voluptuous blonde packed tightly into red Lycra flares and moving with agility on giant silver platform shoes, Duque has a huge dramatic voice reminiscent of Cuban singer La Lupe. At the end of the set, Tito Puente, Jr., joined his father to sing "Oye Como Va" and showed off some smooth dance moves.

Meanwhile, Puente displayed his usual combination of creative musicianship and vaudeville showboating. At one point as the audience clapped to the clave rhythm, he shouted out, "That sounds like some Jewish clowning to me!" He was kidding again when he introduced one instrumental by announcing, "Now I'm going to play what I want to play, some sal-sa." Puente doesn't like the term, which conveniently but unfortunately pigeonholes all Latin music into one marketable category. He has other words for his music: Latin jazz. Mambo. Rhythm.

"I don't want to be known as a salsa musician, " he insists. "Salsa is a condiment for food. You know, sauce -- tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, salsa caliente. It's not a musical term, but it's popular and everybody likes to talk about it. So I'm not going to fight it any more.

"Call it what you want." he urges. "I know what I'm playing, and that's where I'm at.

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