For as long as she has been a working musician Jane Bunnett has celebrated live in all its floral beauty and thorny danger, adorning it with ineffably beautiful whorls of phrases and line created on both soprano saxophone and flute. As a result, over the years, her music has become more daring and interminably beckoning. She has drawn listeners to her with deepening emotion, at times seeming to eschew virtuosity in favour of zeroing on the emotional heart of the music she performs – in the studio and on stage. She stands apart even in the crowded field of improvising musicians who play their own, original music.
Even here her playing – especially on soprano saxophone – every improvised musical ornament adorns her music as taking wet ink to the taut skin of a naked body. As a result listening to her play is akin to absorbing the work of the most profoundly human and idealistic of musicians. As listeners to Miss Bunnett – and, in this case, the kindred spirits of Maqueque – we become more human ourselves; an especially poignant transformation in these troubled times. Thus we were left appropriately spellbound every now and then during the evening. The vocalists lifted their game heavenward; Yissy Garcia showed off her incredible chops needled by Miss Paz and her battery of percussion along the way.
Then shortly came the second set and the promised surprise: Nikki D. Brown, vocalist and lap-steel guitarist from Toledo, Ohio (known as the “Jimi Hendrix of Sanctified Steel” and an integral part of the family of vocalists who perform as the Sisters of Thunder). Miss Brown launched into the iconic spiritual “Amazing Grace” and we were levitated – spines-a-tingling – by the power of her smoky contralto and her flawless virtuosity on her chosen instrument, the lap-steel guitar. The thunder and lightning was not far off as, one by one, the rest of Maqueque – drummer, percussionist, bassist and vocalists joined Miss Brown, Miss Bunnett and Miss Olano, who helped lift the spiritual to a rarefied realm.
And there was even time for a little theatre with “La Flamenca Maria” performed with the help of a member of the audience who – it was no accident – named “Maria”. But much of the (rest of) the music comprised new music written by Miss Bunnett and the other musicians of Maqueque. All of it is expected to be on a release that is slated to appear in the spring of 2019. They were songs that had just been recorded the night before and clearly the ensemble was still in the ecstatic throes of what must have been an enormously successful recording as what was expressed on stage – from “Re:EnCuentro and “La Linea” to the hypnotic “On Firm Ground” “Broken Heart” and the ethereally beautiful “New Angel”. Clearly discernable was a breathtaking maturation of young musicians energised by a powerful force of creativity the vortex of which swirls around the music of Jane Bunnett.
We walked away as if on air. The surge of elation was palpable; the melodic eddies echoing in a simple soulful musical idiom that had nothing – and everything – to do with Afro-Cuban tradition and Jazz, a spiritual path; the jazzy way of the heart turned heavenward; it was an evening that resounded with a renewed cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy; the mission to bring the unique music of Maqueque to the world… Mission accomplished.
Maqueque is Jane Bunnett: soprano saxophone and flute; Daymé Arocena: vocals; Melvis Santa: vocals and percussion; Mary Paz: congas and vocals; Dánae Olano: piano; Tailin Marrero: acoustic and electric bass; Yissy García: drums; Guest: Nikki D Brown: vocals and lap steel guitar
All photographs by Danilo Navas