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.