Review: ‘Juan Carlos Formell’

Juan-Carlos Formell, the rarely recorded Cuban emigre guitarist whose father founded the celebrated Los Van Van, continues to open new doors for a pan-Latin sound that owes as much to South American as it does to his native country. Close your eyes and one minute he's Brazilian, the next he's weaving a tapestry of '50s rock, <I>cumbia</I> and jazz.

Juan-Carlos Formell, the rarely recorded Cuban emigre guitarist whose father founded the celebrated Los Van Van, continues to open new doors for a pan-Latin sound that owes as much to South American as it does to his native country. Close your eyes and one minute he’s Brazilian, the next he’s weaving a tapestry of ’50s rock, cumbia and jazz.

It’s new-world Latin music: Cuban song forms working as a fulcrum to create tunes without boundaries. David Byrne and Caetano Veloso have used this approach — the cherry-picking of rhythms and melodies from around the globe — yet Formell adds a technical brilliance and sense of grounding. Obviously, he learned well from his father.

Without the flash of a rock guitarist or a jazz squealer, he possesses a technical brilliance always in service to the music. In quiet moments, Formell deconstructs chords and plays with an uncommon ease and grace; for uptempo numbers, he lays in a groove set by fine drummer Emilio Valdes and gives the spotlight to violinist Alfredo De La Fe, whose vigorous playing possessed none of the subtlety of Formell’s guitar playing.

Juan Carlos Formell

Jazz Standard, New York City; 140 capacity; $15

Production

Presented inhouse. Reviewed May 5, 2004.

Cast

Band: Juan-Carlos Formell, Jose Bringas, Emilio Valdes, Magilee, Alfredo De La Fe.
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