Alejandro Sanz doesn't do irony.
Earnestness flows like extra-sweet sangria from the Spanish singer-guitarist. Sincerity suffuses his raspy voice, a fine, soulful instrument that he showcased to striking effect during his Wednesday-night concert at the Nokia Theatre.
In many of his songs, Sanz is a man alternately liberated by, and imprisoned in, dramatic passions and anguished hopes. This flamenco-tinged belter and multiple Latin Grammy Award winner is one of the few performers alive who could make Neil Diamond sound like David Byrne.
He also puts on a memorable live show, something that L.A. audiences haven't been able to experience often since the artist began his conquest of Spanish-language soft-pop/rock a quarter-century ago.
Sanz's perpetual ardor and swooning romanticism are evident on all his albums, not least on his latest chart-topper, "La Música No Se Toca," whose title track he played near the close of his Nokia engagement.
Backed by an enthusiastic and photogenic 10-member ensemble, Sanz also was joined onstage by one very special guest, the great Cuban jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, who contributed some dazzling improvisational runs to a half-dozen tunes. Sanz and his colleagues showed obvious pleasure at being in the presence of a master, yielding the stage whenever Sandoval strolled in from the wings and allowing him to commandeer melodies and pump a bit of Afro-Cuban rhythmic urgency and bite into the band's normally genial, MOR tempos.
Early in the show Sanz gave pride of place to his new disc, unleashing his act with "Llamando A La Mujer Acción," an unusually hard-rocking tune (for him). But although he was raised in a tough Madrid neighborhood and once engaged in a bizarre verbal dust-up with the late Venezuelan president-strongman Hugo Chávez, Sanz is every inch a seducer, not a scrapper. His strategy is to snuggle up to his audiences, not incite them, as he did Wednesday by dipping generously into his substantial supply of hits.
On Wednesday he quickly settled into his comfort zone: gently chugging, densely poetic ballads that vaguely reveal the influences of his Anglophone idols (one of his sons is named for Bob Dylan), along with a smorgasbord of pan-Latin pop and smooth-jazz flavorings.
On several occasions Sanz effectively stripped his songs down to simple piano- or acoustic guitar-driven arrangements, as on a yearning rendition of "Desde Cuándo," from his 2009 release "Paraíso Express." For "Enséñame Tus Manos," the evening's emotional high point, he gathered his admirable female backup singers around the piano, alternating contemplative verses as a digitally projected nightscape loomed behind them.
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