By Don Heckman
The L.A. Phil’s entertaining Americas & Americans series came up with a stellar musical double-header Wednesday night at the Hollywood Bowl. Which was not surprising, given the headlining onstage presence of Sheila E. and Gilberto Santa Rosa. Both of whom are major figures in the Latin music world – and beyond.
It’s no mystery that Sheila E., the highly visible offspring of the talented Escovedo family, is a startlingly gifted percussionist, and she displayed her drumming skills throughout her program in various areas of the stage, opening her segment with a set that began in high velocity and continued to build until its final climactic ending.
She’s also a gifted vocalist, dancer and extraordinarily talented entertainer. Add to that her ability to create a show reaching across the full gamut of the contemporary music world.
Her program unfolded in a series of escalating segments, spotlighting her far-ranging musical gifts in the company of a similarly talented group of musicians and dancers. Surrounding her with break-dancing, hip-hop and rap, crisply rhythmic back-up vocals and a rich mosaic of sound and emotion, her players and dancers provided the perfect setting for her eclectic creativity.
Call it a remarkable performance, one which continually elicited enthusiastic responses from a crowd that seemed to adore every move and every sound she made.
Puerto Rican singer Santa Rosa was greeted by an equally delighted audience esponse. And understandably so, for a performer who has been awarded five Grammys, had 14 number 1 hits on Billboard’s Tropical Airplay chart, and released numerous gold and platinum albums.
Like Sheila E., Santa Rosa delivered a non-stop performance surrounded by a cadre of performers who combined to produce a musical and visual extravaganza. Remaining largely in center stage, occasionally strolling – with a dance step or two – from one side to the other, he frequently acknowledged the contributions of his hot-stepping back-up singers and high flying horn players.
Given the hits he’s delivered in his more than three decade career, Santa Rosa, sometimes called “El Caballero de la Salsa,” had plenty of familiar items to sustain his lengthy set. Understandably, most were supported by fiery salsa rhythms, dynamically delivered by his 12 piece ensemble.
At 51, Santa Rosa’s voice is still an appealing instrument, and his warm vocals soared lyrically through his numerous salsa hits, with an occasional pause to offer a romantic bolero.
“Americas & Americans?” Yes, indeed. Santa Rosa and Sheila E. offered all that and a lot more.
The only problematic aspects of this extraordinary pair of performances traced to the decibel level of the sound system. Both Santa Rosa and Sheila E. are brilliant performing artists. And each is capable of delighting an audience without having the sounds of their singing amplified to the edge of pain.
That complaint aside, kudos to the L.A. Phil for presenting an appealing entry in the Americas & Americans series. Another follows on Friday and Saturday in the appearance of singer Gloria Estefan and YOLA (Youth Orchestra LA).
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Sheila E. photo by Bonnie Perkinson.