ARGENTINA'S Gato Barbieri was once one of the most promising jazz musicians ever to emerge outside the United States.

In the early '70s his big grainy tenor saxophone sound gave a welcome Latin flavor to the free jazz heritage of John Coltrane. That same year, though, Barbieri got a taste of pop success with his soundtrack for "Last Tango in Paris," and within a few years, he was playing simple and predictable music for more and more applause.

He seemed to be moving back to more substantive music with the bold Latin jazz of his 1983 live album, "Para los Amigos," but his most recent album, "Apasionado," is a relapse into commercial fusion. Barbieri's tone is as rich and rewarding as ever, but he never ventures far from simple melodic themes and danceable Latin rhythms.

He leads a solid band featuring Miles Davis' recent percussionist, Minu Cinelu, and the unheralded Bill Washer, whose guitar solos are assertive but lyrical. Nonetheless Barbieri's remake of "Last Tango in Paris" seems rather pointless, as he simply repeats the theme over and over against the chunky beat.

"The Best of Angela Bofill" collects a dozen songs from the Spanish Harlem singer's first five albums, 1978 to '85. The title is subject to some debate, since the album emphasizes her pop-soul commercial side and ignores her more ambitious Latin-jazz forays. On the songs that are included, she proves herself a worthy heir to Minnie Riperton with her elegant soprano and romantic delivery.

GATO BARBIERI -- "Apasionado" (Doctor Jazz FW40183);

ANGELA BOFILL -- "The Best of Angela Bofill" (Arista, AL8-8425). Barbieri, Bofill, Stanley Clarke and Ramsey Lewis appear Friday night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.