Salsa Superstar At The Aztec Club

Posted: September 03, 1992

When you bring in Oscar D'Leon to perform, don't expect the guy to leave the stage for a while.

The Venezuelan salsa superstar believes in giving audiences his all - for as long as three hours a set.

And so D'Leon did Tuesday night at the Aztec Club. He is a bassist- bandleader with heavy roots in Cuban music, chiefly that of Beny More's, which he has honed to razor-sharpness.

Bursting onto the stage over a mixture of the Cuban comparsa and the Hammer, his teenage son in tow, D'Leon proved to be a rare performer - a great entertainer with no gimmicks. All he did was sing one song after another, taking no breaks between selections, and tirelessly dancing, directing and clowning.

Much of D'Leon's repertoire was stellar, but a few moments stood out. "La Murga de Panama," with booming congas and heavily African choral techniques, seemed intended to mesmerize as much as to prompt the packed house to move its collective feet."Que Bueno Baila Usted" was an appropriate homage to El Beny.

And during a passage in which he saluted many Latin American countries, D'Leon's bell-clear tenor and nimble improvisatory style was revealed during passages in which he was accompanied only by guiro and hand claps.

Merengue can be some of the best dance music around - for about 15 minutes, that is. After that, often, every song begins to sound the same.

But a truly great merengue band (such as early Wilfrido Vargas) can overcome that problem easily with astute compositions, arrangements and choreography.

The Dominican group Jossie Esteban y La Patrulla 15, now based in Puerto Rico, showed that it has only partially figured out this paradox during an hour-long set that followed D'Leon.

Thanks to co-leader Ringo Martinez, La Patrulla's main arranger and composer, this 11-man, one-woman aggregation is blessed with horn charts that push its tunes to strive for more than simple movement.

On hits such as "El Tigeron," "Sopita de Cabro" and "La Carga," saxophones danced with trumpets, doubled with trombone, duplicated percussion breaks, swirled seductively. But other aspects of La Patrulla's material - melodies, choreography, Esteban's banter with women in the audience - were mediocre.

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