If I were forced to categorize the music of Juan-Carlos Fromell I'd have to call it "Cuban-Lite." It has Spanish lyrics and the rhythms are latin-based, but it lacks the emotional intensity that we have come to expect from Cuban music. It is also overly produced, in much the same manner as so-called "smooth jazz." While it is pleasant and inoffensive, there also isn't much meat to the bone. One comes away from listening to this album wanting much more, like a meal in which only the appetizer course was served.
Fromell has a pleasant voice and he is a superb guitarist. While many have compared him to the Brazilian great Joao Gilberto, that comparison is not apt. Gilberto does sing softly and his famous "stuttering" style of guitar playing holds much in reserve, yet there is always in Gilberto's playing and singing an understated intensity that pushes forward as much as it holds back. With Fromell it is just understatement for understatement's sake. There is also very little music on this CD that can be construed as jazz-based. A possible exception is the bolero, "La Extrema Tristeza de la Tarde," in which there is a prominent improvised bass solo.
Fans of Cuban jazz will want to stick with Paquito D'Rivera and Arturo Sandoval. And with a running time of only 46 minutes, Las Calles del Paraiso lacks much more than only rhythmic and musical intensity.
Track Listing: Las Calles del Para
Personnel: Juan-Carlos Formell, vocals, guitar; Tommy Moran, pedal steel guitar;
David O'Quendo, coro; Dafnis Prieto, percussion; Yosvany Terry, tenor
sax; Rick Faulkner, trombone; Lisandro Arias, piano; Horacio "El Negro"
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.