Juan-Carlos Formell is the son of Juan Formell, the founder and longtime leader of Los Van Van, Cuba's most famous dance band. The younger Formell fled to the U.S. in 1993 but didn't release his first solo album until this year's "Songs from a Little Blue House." It's very different from the aggressive, horn-backed beats of his daddy's records; instead it's a gentle, reflective singer-songwriter project in the vein of North America's Paul Simon, Brazil's Caetano Veloso or Cuba's own Silvio Rodriquez.
In Cuba, even singer-songwriters know the importance of rhythm, and the younger Formell's compositions are built atop supple, rippling beats, articulated by the singer's breezy guitar figures and amplified by his tasteful percussionists. This understated pulse is appropriate for his lyrics, which are full of evocative nature imagery and bittersweet memories of the homeland he left behind.
Typical is "Pajarillo," a lovely song of sad longing for the "little bird" of his childhood, the bird who taught him the "warble of the river" and the bitter complaint of the peasant. Other songs recall the sweet flowers and mangos of the singer's Cuban grandmother or identify with a crab caught between the sea and the stew pot. Formell and his band of Cuban expatriates are joined by such American jazz stars as Mark Whitfield, Harvie Swartz and Brian Lynch.
Appearing Thursday at IOTA. To hear a free Sound Bite from Juan-Carlos Formell, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8122. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)