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Jane Bunnett

Saxophonist Jan Bunnett

Cuban jazz

by Piotr Michalowski

From the November, 2016 issue

In 1947 the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie recorded his big band playing "Cubana Bop," which featured the Cuban conga player Chano Pozo. On this tune, widely considered one of the landmarks in the complex musical relationships between the island and the North American mainland, you can hear Pozo chanting Bantu words, culminating with "simba" (lion). This religious chant, with its African words and drumming accompaniment, encapsulates the different cultural trajectories of the African diaspora in Cuba and in this country. Here, early in the nineteenth century, slaves were forbidden to play drums and forced to forget much about their homelands. In Cuba the amalgam of different African and European elements created complex African-derived rhythms that could not have originated anywhere else in the Americas. In turn, Cuban artistic development has had a profound impact on popular music and jazz everywhere for over a century. In the late forties, Cuban and native jazz musicians in New York created a powerful new Afro-Cuban musical trend sometimes known as Cubop. Precise and technically demanding, it was wonderful to dance to and had broad appeal. In the Sixties, after the Castro revolution, contacts between the U.S. and the island were largely cut off, although some wonderful Cuban players occasionally managed to leave and settle here. But our northern neighbor had a more open relationship with the island, and one Canadian who traveled there was soprano saxophonist and flutist Jane Bunnett. Bunnett began her training as a classical pianist, but once she fell for jazz she worked to master the soprano saxophone and flute. One of only a handful of players to specialize in the soprano saxophone without doubling on the tenor or alto, she developed a highly personal approach to the instrument. Bunnett came to prominence involved with the more adventurous movements in jazz, and from her 1988 debut onward recorded with major players such as Dewey Redman, Don Pullen, and her compatriot, pianist Paul Bley. Although she clearly had avant-garde

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leanings, she was also very much enamored of melody, recording interpretations of hymns, spirituals, and classic modern jazz pieces. She and her husband, trumpeter Larry Cramer, visited Cuba and fell in love with the people and their music; ever since, she has continued to travel to the island, working with locals but also bringing in instruments and providing support for young artists. Twenty-five years ago Bunnett made the very successful album Spirits of Havana, playing with musicians such as Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Hilario Duran who blended Cuban playing with jazz in a highly original manner and drew much critical praise. Since then she has continued to explore such collaborations, culminating with her latest project, Maqueque, in which she leads a sextet of young Cuban women musicians. The music of this group, featuring electronic instruments and wordless vocals that blend with her saxophone and flute, has more pop elements than her previous work but still maintains robust elements of Afro-Cuban and jazz traditions, propelled by expressive percussion and drums.Jane Bunnett and Maqueque perform at the Kerrytown Concert House on November 5.     (end of article)

[Originally published in November, 2016.]

 

 
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