Perla Batalla with Karen Hammack: Sweet Sierra Night
By Glen Creason
It is sage advice to live every day like it was your last and in turn write every review like it was your last. If this is to be my swan song then the Perla Batalla concert on a Sierra Night was the perfect way to finish with a flourish. Ms. Batalla is in a small handful of the best singers on earth and to have her at Cerritos was a coup in itself but to have the privilege of getting to hear her test out brand new material for a full house proved to be one of the very best shows here in a long, long time. Co-star Karen Hammack on piano could have faded to gray next to such talent but instead her solos were breathtaking, Technicolor voyages that just lifted the vocals to places you can’t reach alone. There were other delightful surprises and stories from the stage on this night that raised the performance to dizzying heights. La Batalla came right out and bravely tested her voice with a surprising, show-opening “Amazing Grace” that morphed from hymn to gospel rouser. As was the pattern for most of the night the next song was a complete change-up with the restrained and gorgeous “Lazy Afternoon” followed by a “Crazy Love” that made you forget Van Morrison. Two gold-plated Leonard Cohen compositions; “Suzanne” and “Dance Me to the Ends of Love” followed familiar ground where Batalla seems to own a franchise. The lovely old Irving Berlin masterpiece “What’ll I Do” caused hankies to be drawn forth and the exotic “Nature Boy” once again celebrated love that was the sweet, central theme of the show. The first half ended with the sensual and evocative “To Love Somebody” that practically made me want to go have a smoke afterwards. The second half was full of fun surprises and a millennium star diamond musical moment at the Cerritos Center. There was a trinity of beauties from the great American songbook including the especially poignant to the singer “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” along with “the Very Thought of You” and “the Nearness of You” that are perfectly suited to the wide-ranging vocal capacity of Perla Batalla and piano melodies that Karen Hammack turned into satin and gold. In the past one would have to say that the signature song of this artist was most certainly “Cu Cu Ru Paloma” and that would be hard to deny on this night, as her stunning rendition was deeply emotional and riveting while drawing a passionate response from fans. As a perfect break in the deep emotion there was some family fun when Perla sang “Las Mananitas” to her sister-in-law and then turned the mike over to her very talented comedy writer-actor brother Rick Batalla who sang an impromptu birthday love song to his wife that brought the house down and most importantly greatly pleased the missus. The fairly giddy Perla then returned to the Leonard Cohen treasure chest for a goose-bump raising “Bird on the Wire” that closed with a Minnie Riperton note.
As a music lover since my Mom took me to Wallach’s Music City to buy the new Righteous Brother platter way back I have long searched for that song that puts a listener in a “happy place” and makes an album precious. That one song that drives you to be standing in line at the record store the morning that disc is released. Those kinds of songs and live performances are few and far between. When Perla Batalla told the audience they were going to perform a piece she had only found weeks ago you might wonder if there might be some rough edges on such a song. Instead the ladies took the entire room into that “other place” and it was quickly evident that one of those precious gems was found. The song, “Love Is Everything” took an entire room to a place where time stands still and the heart beats one thump at a time. Nothing but music and love can make this kind of miracle. I was still catching my breath and mouthing the words “wow” but the crowd exhaled, then cheered and Perla and Karen gave them encores of “Round Midnight” with guest artist Chris Conner sounding decidedly Mingus-esque on a wonderful bass and a finale of “Gracias a la Vida” featuring guitarist Gilberto Gonzalez playing percussion. If this was my last show, at least I can go off to paradise humming “Love Is Everything” which on this night described the time and place perfectly.