Yusa's debut CD points to a Cuban singer/songwriter genre that doesn't fit snugly within either the romantic strains of the Buena Vista Social Club orbit or the confines of modern salsa. Juan Carlos Formell's last couple of albums pointed to this emerging genre, and the island has always produced its share of musicians who step outside the pale. But Yusa may surprise even those who expect modern Cuban musicians to sound different. Voraciously devouring a wide range of modern pop, jazz, and rock, she is from Cuba but not of it -- she has more in common with jazz-inflected pop chanteuses like Joni Mitchell and Cassandra Wilson and the modern heirs of Brazil's late-Sixties Tropicalia movement, like Carlinhos Brown and Chico Science, than she does with the Cuban trova tradition. While some of the songs spread themselves a little thin in reaching so wide -- such as "A Las Doce," which journeys from folk-pop to bolero to modern jazz to an orisha chant for Yemaya -- most are refreshing, uncategorizable slices of global pop, like "Cuestión de Ángulo," which with its playful lyrics and inventive Fender Rhodes-drenched arrangement sounds like a Songs In the Key Of Life-era Stevie Wonder halfway between Havana and Bahia. With creative arrangements from keyboard ace Roberto Carcasses and found sounds like the crashing of sea waves or the bustle of Havana street life popping up in various cracks, Yusa is an aural journey from start to finish, and one that never gets boring even in its most overly dramatic, ballady moments. The mix of stylistic flavors paints a diversified picture of modern Cuba in this promising and interesting debut.
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