Review Jane Bunnett & Maqueque – Playing With Fire
The Toronto-based flautist and master of the skittish soprano sax has had a long-standing love affair with the music of Cuba – long enough to earn her the nickname “Havana Jane”. She has recorded with many a Cuban musician, often with her regular band Spirits of Havana, for the Canadian label Justin Time, as well as for Blue Note and others. She even sponsored a Flute Summit in Havana back in the 1990s. Appropriately enough, in this week that has seen International Women’s Day, her latest album was recorded in the company of her all-female band Maqueque, whose mission during its ten-year existence has been to elevate the profile of women musicians in Cuba. The core members of the current band are conservatory graduates – like the 19-year-old violinist Daniela Olano, sister of the band’s co-founder and pianist, Danae Olano. Daniela is featured on her sister’s composition, “Daniela’s Theme”, playing in unison and distinctive harmony with Jane Bunnett’s flute and new recruit, the outstanding vocalist from Zimbabwe, Joanna Majoko.
Half the other numbers on the album are similarly short, sharp and sweet. “Turquoise/Turquesa”, for example, is a lovely jaunty, bouncy affair with Majoko scatting in combination with the instruments and achieving an effect that’s not 500 miles away from Flora Purim on her recent If You Will. Charles Mingus’s “Jump Monk” is given a memorable treatment with vocals, handclaps and a stand-out soprano sax solo – not to mention, of course, the percussion, suitably fiery throughout the album. Guest guitarist Donna Grantis, who spent many years with 3RDEYEGIRL, Prince’s backing trio, is featured on the song “Tomorrow”, while bringing a suitably electric element to the title track. Appropriately enough, Danae Olano’s piano introduces Bud Powell’s standard, “Tempus Fugit”, which is then transformed by vocal, violin, flute and percussion into something that the Bebop pioneer would have surely approved of.
Longer tracks like “Human Race”, “Sierra” and “A God Unknown” maybe lack such immediacy and impact, arguably coming over more as suites in search of a song. But this is a minor, and perhaps personal gripe. Written by bass player Tailin Marrero, “Bolero a un Sueño” shows what this band is capable of at a slower tempo and, overall, this is a very stylish and seriously accomplished album that fans of Afro-Cuban jazz will want to add to their collections. Hopefully, there’ll be plenty more to come from Maqueque in the years ahead.
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