Powerful presence fortifies Jose's voice

Special to The Times

Back in 1969, Mexican crooner Jose Jose released "Cuidado," his memorable debut album. A treasure from a bygone era when Latin pop was marked by sophisticated melodies and jazz-inflected arrangements, the collection introduced the singer's silky voice and impassioned delivery. His was a refined, ultra-romantic approach that would earn him the nickname El Principe, the Prince.

But years of alcohol abuse and a lung ailment turned his voice into an uncomfortable rasp, an unreliable shadow of its former self. He's been sober for a decade now, and in his epic show Sunday at the Kodak Theatre he sounded better than he has in recent years. But the limitations of his voice were underscored by the backing of his gargantuan band and the impeccable harmonies of two female vocalists.

The scene was heartbreaking at times. Jose would get started on a tune such as the shimmering "Me Vas a Echar de Menos," and for a moment you could hear the ghost of the old Prince in a verse or two. But then his voice would falter, creating a jarring contrast to the polished gloss of the orchestral accompaniment.

The crowd reacted with compassion, engaging in a communal suspension of disbelief, of sorts -- celebrating the singer's every word and moaning with delight at the mere recognition of classic pop fare such as "Volcan" and "La Nave del Olvido."

Jose, 56, shared the bill with three of his children, including his 8-year-old daughter, Sarita, who performed a cute hip-hop routine. Interestingly, listening to the old hits as performed by the vigorous voices of his offspring was tedious compared to the painful yet oddly compelling versions by the man himself.

Jose's voice might have deserted him, but he remains a warm showman, ever appreciative of his fans' devotion. Perhaps it is his gentlemanly manner that has allowed him to remain, against all odds, a massively popular concert attraction all over the Americas.

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