Natalie Cole's hometown concert at the Hollywood Bowl came as her first Spanish-language album, "Natalie Cole en Español," marked seven weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Latin Pop Albums chart. The album is No. 6 this week on Top Latin Albums, where it debuted at No. 1.
A pleasant pass through Latin classics, some once recorded by Nat King Cole for his own beloved Spanish albums, "Natalie Cole en Español" is most remarkable for the novelty of hearing the younger Cole, who like her father at the time of his español recordings, does not speak the language, sing with a breezy ease in Spanish.
But the album's success speaks most to the public's desire to relive songs they know best, as did Cole's crowd-pleasing set list at the Hollywood Bowl on Aug. 14. The singer entered from a staircase at the back of the stage, where a big band in black tie that included a full strings section was arranged on risers, as if at a vintage nightclub. Pausing dramatically in the spotlight, Cole, in a sparkly satin hi-lo dress, introduced a show of "some of the most unforgettable music of all time."
Projecting energy and confidence, playing it sincere and at times sassy, Cole, 63, showed that she's still got the stuff of an appealing show woman who would make her father proud. Nat himself made two appearances on the Bowl's video screens – once alternating verses with his daughter in Spanish ("Acercate Más"), and the other for a reprise of their virtual duet "Unforgettable."
Cole and her tight orchestra moved quickly through numbers that ranged from the standards "Stardust" and "The Very Thought of You," to her breakthrough "This Will Be" and 1989 single "Miss You Like Crazy."
The evening's dedication to familiar songs went to the extreme during a tribute medley that included, Oscars-style, photos of departed artists flashing onscreen. Hits of Donna Summer, Michael Jackson, Etta James and Whitney Houston were enthusiastically received. But when the three excellent back up singers let loose, they overshadowed Cole, and it at times felt that the audience was applauding the songs more than the interpretation. But throughout the show, Cole's dedicated fans were moved to cheers, and shouts of "We love you Natalie."
For those who came out to hear the "Natalie Cole en Español" album performed live and were expecting the singer to really bring on the Latin flavor, the concert disappointed. She performed five Latin numbers out of seventeen, including an "Oye Como Va" medley for an encore.
One anticipated moment that missed the mark was Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes' guest spot on "Quizas, Quizas, Quizas." His legendary father, Bebo Valdés, who died earlier this year, had performed with Nat Cole in Havana and played on his first Cole Español album (1958). Cole warmly acknowledged this emotional tie as she welcomed Valdés onstage, but the performance of the classic song was merely perfunctory, with a facile arrangement that restrained Valdés.
The moment contrasted dramatically with a powerful short set by Valdés and his Afro-Cuban Messengers that opened the concert. The poly-rhythmic spectacular left no doubt about the crucial role of Valdés in the evolution of Latin jazz, not only for his own incredible playing that can bridge McCoy Tyner, Afro-Cuban religion and native American rhythms, as on his latest album "Border Free," but for his nurturing of young talent. The sophisticated Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé, who played three bata drums while chanting in Yoruba dialect, was an unexpected star of the evening.