Jane Bunnett and Maqueque: On Firm Ground/Tierra Firme

Don’t let the title of this third recording by Jane Bunnett and (the new incarnation of) Maqueque fool you. Indeed the musicians of this magnificent all-woman group is simply high-flying and you will be carried on their celestial journey just as soon as the band strikes up on the sassy (perhaps even cheeky) opening number, “La Linea”, which appears to be an introduction to their “new” line-up; a kind of third all-powerful incarnation of an ensemble that quite literally bristles with the soaring feminine spirit. On the other hand, there may be a quite legitimate reason for this title On Firm Ground/Tierra Firme and that is that the music of Miss Bunnett and “the power-girls” (as they might well be called) is now rooted in a mature – not “maturing”, but “mature” sound.

It’s tempting to suggest that the sensational evolution of Maqueque comes expressly courtesy of the infusion of a robust rhythm section newly fortified by their brilliant bassist Tailin Marrero, whose virtuosity is expressed equally on the highly combustible and near-ubiquitous electric bass and on the contrabass, which she plays with great facility con arco (and an eloquently crafted performance is expressed on the track “Sky High”), not to mention when, with marvelous choice of notes she solos especially noteworthy on “Reencuentro”, one might add. And then there is percussionist Mary Paz, who seems to have opened another perceptual door to the proverbial “percussion colourist’s” palette. This is not to take away from anything musical that may have come before. But the fact that these two musicians are generously spotlighted must account for something… and the effect that they have in terms of rounding out the inimitable sound of Yissy Garcia’s drums is magical.

If a key word there was “perceptual” most of this has to do with the extra sensory perception that Miss Bunnett seems to have been born with – both her and producer Larry Cramer, of course. It’ s hard to explain otherwise judging by the extra sensory perception with which the duo have navigated their way through the diabolical pitfalls of their music – both creatively and commercially as well. Mr Cramer has not “played” on his wife’s recordings for some years now, but his presence is undiminished and his contribution of an interpretation of John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice” in conga-form is short, yet simply magnificent. It further highlights the sensational drum-conga-bass contingent that is consecrated by Miss Bunnett’s performance. The final bars of the song that are bathed in the glory of the trompeta china complete this glimmering picture.

This album finds Miss Bunnett at the top of her game. Whether she is playing the flute or the soprano saxophone her voice is one of an artist in sublime form. “On Firm Ground” finds Miss Bunnett exploring the soprano with melodious grandeur. This is also a fine example of how the members of the group have managed to weave their soulful vocals into the viscerally exciting Afro-Cuban rhythms for which they have become a haloed musical entity today. With the presence of the wailing sacred steel and voice of Nikki D. Brown the group ascends a proverbially rarefied realm, from which they seem not to return for the rest of the album, not the least because of the pristine sounds of her instrument on “Broken Heart” as well.

One would be remiss if one did not recognise the emerging “spirit” of Dánae Olano, who has shone for her virtuoso performances on past recordings as well. But with this recording, to which she has been credited with several compositions, Miss Olano emerges for much more than the proven genius of her pianism – although her soloing on “The Occurance” is an elegant reminder of her pianism. Her musical contributions now extend to compositional material and this is part of the heart and soul of more than just this recording, but the whole existence of Maqueque, it would seem. Another magical addition to the ensemble is vocalist Joanna Majoko, who navigates this beautiful, often stormy music with terrific bravura and agility. Miss Majoko is the newest (third) addition to the lead-vocal “chair” and she occupies it with every luscious detail as did Daymé Arocena and Melvis Santa – both of whom join in to exemplify the vocal dimension of the group on this recording as well.

However, make no mistake, this repertoire provides us to catch the latest glimpse of one of the great voices of the soprano saxophone. The variety and stylishness of her playing on this recording is evident on every tune of the album. She brings effortless urbanity and lyricism to all the items in this repertoire, where she is as seductive and persuasive as ever (as on “Broken Heart” and “Momentum” respectively. Her performance is an object lesson in the very essence of style. Her free-flowing music is played with buoyant, aristocratic grace and psychological ambiguity – and on the faster numbers – she is (rightly) almost insolently effortless, bringing a debonair virtuosity and swagger to both her soprano saxophone and flute playing – and she is at her virtuosic, goblinesque best on “Monkey See, Monkey Do”. All in all, a world of ravishing music evoked as few could even hope to try, here on an album to die for.

Track list – 1: La Linea (The Line-up); 2: Monkey See-Monkey Do; 3: Momentum; 4: On Firm Ground; 5: Habana De Noche (Havana at Night); 6: Sky High; 7: The Occurance (to Amelie); 8: Reencuentro (Re-united); 9: Broken Heart; 10: The Mystery of Jane’s House; 11: Pa’ Con Paz; 12: Musica En La Alma (Music in the Soul)

Personnel – Jane Bunnett: soprano saxophone, flute and trompeta china; Dánae Olano: piano and vocals; Tailin Marrero: contrabass, electric bass and vocals; Yissy Garcia: drums; Mary Paz: percussion and vocals; Joanna Majoko: vocals; Special Guests – Daymé Arocena: vocals; Melvis Santa: vocals; Nicole “Nikki” D. Brown: vocals and sacred steel

Released – 2019
Label – Linus Entertainment
Runtime – 51:39

Raul Da Gama
Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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