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Tumi Music (www.tumimusic.com)

Cuban music remains, for reasons too numerous to get into here, very much an "in" thing globally. It can be difficult to distinguish between Cuban music that is and isn't worth buying; it seldom breaks down to easy distinctions between modern versus vintage, famous versus obscure, pricey versus inexpensive, etc. What we have in Yusa is, to oversimplify things considerably, great music that happens to come from Cuba. Conservatory trained, proficient on guitar, piano and bass and with a lightly breathy voice that's been compared to that of Tracy Chapman and some of Brazil's leading contemporary female singers, Yusa makes music that doesn't suffer one bit from being not immediately identifiable as Cuban. As the tracks progress, sounds of bata drums and rumba-influenced chorus vocals emerge, but the gorgeous unfolding of this disc also seduces you with warm, acoustic singer/songwriter intimacy, poetic confessionals with piano and strings, and jazz grooves that deftly walk a line between tightly structured and totally free, all with layered, uncluttered arrangements that swing like wind chimes in a summer breeze. The easy stylistic shifts from song to song provide a richly subtle framework for Yusa's vocals, which work wonders handling sweet sadness ("Mares de Inocencia"), sharply percussive scatting ("Chiquichaca") and numerous other shadings. A very fine album from start to finish, it shows the extent to which Cuban music has reached the world and how much outside influence Cuban music itself has absorbed.- Tom Orr

CD available from cdroots.com

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