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Celia Cruz & the Johnny Pacheco Orcestra

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CELIA CRUZ & THE JOHNNY PACHECO ORCHESTRA

Celia Cruz still deserves to be called the "Queen of Salsa." Even at 74 she reigns supreme, carrying herself with rare dignity and maintaining remarkable control despite mounting technical limitations. As heard on her latest album, Mi vida es cantar (RMM), her voice has deepened and darkened over the years--generously, a rich mahogany to the maple of yore--and compared to her work with the hot Cuban band Sonora Matancera in the 50s and 60s, collected on last year's superb 100% Azucar (Rhino), her range and flexibility have decreased dramatically. But she remains a crack improviser, and she still knows how to command a room. To her credit she takes some stylistic chances on the new record, including the hopped-up pop merengue of "Me estan hablando del cielo," the synth-heavy balladry of "Siento la nostalgia de palmeras," and the flamenco tinge of the pulsing "La vida es un carnaval." Live, though, Cruz probably won't risk any newfangled stuff; she'll don her usual theatrical getup--a wild hat, a sequined gown, and lots and lots of makeup--and stick with the material that earned her the crown in the first place. She'll be backed by a band led by Johnny Pacheco, who as musical director at New York's Fania label in the 70s helped Cruz rack up some of her biggest hits. Friday, 8 PM, Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress; 312-902-1500. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by James Stiles.

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