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Boston Herald

Inspired Salsa Pairing Makes Electrifying Big-Band Combo


April 29, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Boston Herald, Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

El Gran Combo and Grupo Niche, Symphony Hall, Boston, Sunday night.

Salsa's generations converged onstage and off at a raucous Symphony Hall event Sunday night, as two legendary big bands proved age and national origin are no barrier to fueling the music's dancing flame.

Pairing Puerto Rico's El Gran Combo with Colombia's Grupo Niche was an inspired stroke by presenter Alexis Pena.

Although the four-decade old El Gran Combo attracted a more middle-aged crowd, most moved along with the hiply dressed younger fans of opener Grupo Niche's urgent, contemporary sound.

The youngsters stuck around to party and sing along as headliner El Gran Combo roared through tight, brass- and percussion-powered hits such as "Telefono," "Me Libere" and "Timbalero."

Modeled on the configuration pioneered by El Gran Combo and others - three lead singers, five horns, keyboard, electric bass, congas, timbales and percussion -Grupo Niche blasted through hit after hit from its own two-decade-plus career.

Madricio Esnader, Charlie Cardona and Mauricio Guerrero, in constant motion with polished unison dance steps, switched leads and used call-and-response vocals to answer the bright, seething rhythm and sharp melody behind them.

"Una Aventura" and "Cali Pachangero" inspired the Colombian flags in the audience to come out, and the blistering encore of "Cali Aji" had the crowd up and swaying with them.

Adding further punch were the four couples from the local "Salsa y Control" company whose onstage dancing was as sleek as it was sexy.

The dancers returned for El Gran Combo, fronted by the powerful vocal trio of Charlie Aponte, Jerry Rivas and Papo Rosario.

The band helped put "salsa dura" ("hard salsa") on the map. It's still there, on the recent hit "Se Nos Perdio le Amor." With the horns splashing vibrant colors over Rafael Ithier's electric keyboard and through the polyrhythms, they were a blaze of celebration.

Matters turned electrifying during the encore, when Grupo Niche joined El Gran Combo for a dizzying "Verano en Nuevo York" that had dancers swirling, choruses exchanged heatedly and flags from both countries waving jubilantly from the Symphony Hall stage.

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