This weekend's real heat wave radiated from Baird Auditorium during Saturday evening's Salsa and Latin Jazz concert by the combustible ensemble of Manny Oquendo and Libre. This final concert in the Smithsonian Associates' superb six-part Musica de las Americas series was a vivid celebration of the hybrid genre's development.
Appropriately humid and close, Pedro Flores' "Obsession" got the evening off to a sultry start, with pianist Marcus Persiani and conguero--or conga player--Pablo Batista laying down a solid groove. Announcing the tunes from the stage, bassist Andy Gonzalez lamented commercial salsa's virtual abandonment of the cha-cha, as Libre gave out with a blistering rendition of "Tu No Me Quieres." By the time "Alabanciosa" showcased the bold, complex trombone work of Luis Bonilla, Avi Lebovich, Leonard Pollara and Dan Reagan, audience members were up and dancing.
For the second set, Oquendo and Gonzalez were joined by three of the great innovators of Latin jazz for a volatile rendition of Juan Tizol's "Caravan." The musical alchemy of flutist Dave Valentin, pianist Hilton Ruiz and trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez was nothing short of intoxicating.
Libre returned to the stage for the lilting "Little Sunflower," the timeless soul of "Suavecito" and a vibrant "Muevete un Poco." The one stain on the evening was the sound, which hindered the audience's enjoyment of the fine vocals of Jorge Maldonado and Efrain "Frankie" Vazquez. Their rich, sweet harmonies and soulful inspiraciones were often drowned out by mixing that was gratingly shrill during the first set and awkwardly balanced throughout.