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Blades shows off the world

Berklee Performance Center, Nov. 17, 2002

By Jeffrey B. Remz

BOSTON - Ruben Blades is best known for his salsa rhythms, which propelled him to fame. But the Panamanian lives up to the title of his new album, "Mundo," in presenting a potpourri of sounds that extend far beyond his roots.

The very very strong album is a melange of salsa/Latin rhythms combined with Irish and Afro-Cuban sounds. From outward appearances, one would think this would be a futile experiment in world music.

But on disc and in concert before an enthusiastic sold-out crowd, Blades easily demonstrated what a fine performer and musical visionary he is. Going from style to style proved no barrier whatsoever as the concept worked without a hitch.

Blades, who earned a law degree acros the river at Harvard and also came in third running for president of Panama about a decade ago, was the master of ceremonies, in effect, for awhile.

The Editus Ensemble started off the evening with a pretty sounding classical oriented song featuring a lot of fiddle.

Boco Livre, a Brasilian quartet all dressed in black, was up next featuring some excellent a capella singing plus three guitars and a flute. Blades first met the group 36 years ago, received a tape of theirs which he wore out, but managed to replace earlier this year.

And Boco Livre turned in a strong renditoin of "The First Circle," which appears on "Mundo."

This was before Blades had even played a note, but it demonstrated just what kind of leader he is. The musicians - there were about 18 others - came and went onstage, and Blades had no problem sharing the stage with them. He gave the musicians ample room to stretch and singers the chance to do their thing as well.

During Blades' time in the spotlight, for example, he gave a lot of space to Eric Rigler, who played bagpipes (he did the same task on the "Titanic" soundtrack) with such clarity and energy.

This isn't to say that Blades isn't a capable front man. His singing is soothing and sonorous, particularly on the closing batch of salsa songs. He also has a strong stage presence, introducing songs in both English and Spanish (the crowd was overwhelmingly Latino), joking easily with the crowd, all the while maintaining a hip coolness.

Make no mistake, though as Blades was the master of the evening. With "Mundo" and this tour, he shows what great ability he possesses.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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