TITO PUENTE & INDIA
Despite some notoriously lackluster recent concerts, I wouldn't write off percussionist and Latin-jazz crusader Tito Puente just yet. "El Rey" has shown himself too scintillating too often, over the course of more than 100 recordings, for us to give up hope so easily. Besides, on disc the same spark that ignited his famous dance bands of the 50s and 60s now lights up his Latin Jazz Ensemble, one of the four or five best Latin-jazz bands of the 90s. This combo acquits itself as admirably as could be expected on Jazzin' (Tropijazz), Puente's 1996 collaboration with the clarion-voiced Latin-pop sensation India--considering that the Bronx barrio bombshell turns out to be no jazz singer, or perhaps just an especially irritating one. Her strained and shouted delivery erases whatever subtlety you might hope for from such a project. (By contrast, her urgency found a perfect match in her more roots-oriented 1992 project with jazz-salsa genius Eddie Palmieri, the steamy Llego la India on Soho Sounds.) India is hardly the first pop singer to have trouble scaling down her assault on melody to better suit the inherent intimacy of jazz improvisation; her attempts at a more traditional singer's role, like selling the theme on jazz standards like "Fever" or Latin chestnuts like "Wave" or "What a Difference a Day Made" while Puente's men provide the depth and texture, come off somewhat better. But despite the chance that her fame and enthusiasm will energize Puente's performance here, I'd look to the concluding set by other artists from the Tropijazz roster for the evening's real excitement. It features the world-champion conguero Giovanni Hidalgo, J.P. Torres on spicy trombone, and Hilton Ruiz, one of the better pianists playing Latin or jazz music today. They'll come together under the nominal leadership of flutist Dave Valentin, whose pop-oriented recordings tend to obscure his command of the complicated riffing and driving polyrhythms that characterize descargas--Latin-jazz jam sessions--like this one. Wednesday, 8 PM, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Tito Puente photo/ uncredited.