It's not easy to live up to some types of hype and it can be especially crippling artistically when you come from great struggle getting better and better all the time. So before we get into some biographical stuff about Juan-Carlos Formell, let's see the comparisons first so that we can have even footing here. Stylistically compared to a pair of late-great masters of the jazz guitar, Joe Pass and the Brazilian virtuoso Baden Powell and drawing poetic notes to modern troubadours Federico García Lorca and the oft-maligned (politically) Nicolás Guillén, Formell is at the vanguard of the contemporary musical explorers of Afro-Cuban and Caribbean sound.
Fleeing the Castro regime while on tour in Mexico in 1993 and doing the clichéd "crossing of the Rio Grande" found him relocating to New York City where busking and taking jobs with salsa bands paid the bills until forming his own outfit in 1994. While he very well could've subscribed to party politics and pursued mass-pleasing music in the island wasn't sufficient for this musician who truly operates better in the avant garde edges of Latin jazz and guitar-driven compositions. Trained as a guitarist and bassist under Andres Escalona, he became the bassist for pianist Emiliano Salvador but ran afoul of the Commies when he tried to pursue his own path. Formell recalls the bleakness: "...in my twenties, at a time when most musicians are full of hope, I was resigned to a future of marginalization."
Juan Carlos Formell. 9 p.m. Sunday, May 2. Upstairs at the Van Dyke Cafe, 846 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. 305-534-3600; thevandykecafe.com/upstairs
Uncompromising hard work has paid off with dividends for Formell in the form of signing on to a major label (RCA) in 1999, having his debut album (2000's Songs from a Little Blue House) nominated for a Grammy, recording four more critically acclaimed full-lengths and having the pleasure of sharing the stage with numerous luminaries from the worlds of jazz and international music.
His presentation this coming Sunday, May 2nd at the Van Dyke Café will be a seriously intimate evening of his solo guitar work where the nuances of his well-crafted acoustic poetics will be available with the honesty of a master crafting in the luxury and ease of home. Performing from instances in his varied career and from his new effort, Johnny's Dream Club will make this a rare opportunity you won't want to miss; Formell's one of the true young talents of the genre and he bares his all.
Juan-Carlos Formell will perform Sunday, May 2nd at The Van Dyke Café at 8 pm.