Somehow, I suspect that Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer [the two are joined at the musical hip] never doubted that Maqueque, this fiery, spirited all-woman Afro-Cuban collective would be something quite special – even when they first took the stage and later recorded their first album. So, it is not surprising that the group [with some significant personnel changes] have now morphed into a supergroup. In fact, the group’s development has been so rapid, and with such a degree of musical maturation that Jane Bunnett and Maqueque would have the gumption – in just four albums – to ascend the supernal realm, so high and mighty, and with repertoire so audacious as to be merit calling their album Playing with Fire, which is pivotal in so many ways.
Jane Bunnett has, from the get-go, by letting loose her elemental sonic wail from her soprano saxophone [or flute], intertwined her inspiring performances with the virtuoso pianism of Dánae Olano, the incendiary drum kit of Yissy García, the thunderous percussion of Mary Paz, and glorious rumble of contrabass and electric bass by Tailin Marerro. After several key changes in personnel the group seems to have reached its proverbial golden mean with the addition of teenage violin sensation Daniela Olano. The reformation somehow come to fruition with the seductive-voiced Afro-Canadian Joanna Majoko, who adds tumbling vocalastics when not waxing lyrical with words and/or mystical vocalise. And then there is the inspirational musicianship of guest guitarist Donna Grantis. Pour all these assets into a burning cauldron and Jane Bunnett and Maqueque end up Playing with Fire.
All of this is intended to sweep listeners along in a flow fueled by the opening fireworks of the three of Ms Bunnett’s most meditative [heightened by Miss Majoko’s wordless and floating metaphysical vocalise] compositions to date: Human Race. Ms Bunnett’s music appears to have acquired a new sense of urgency, as if triggered by an existential sense of mortality. This is clearly discernable in the vividly dark atmosphere of the song Human Race. In The God Unknown we find Grecian references, particularly those of Socrates and his observations about nature [for it was the ancient philosopher who meditated on human nature just as his fellow philosophers [notably Plato] meditated [even discussed] the nature of The Unknown God, [believed to be The God of the Judeo-Christian Diaspora]. If the song Turquoise/Turquesa is meant to be a reference to the aquamarine of the sea that surrounds Cuba, then it is an exquisite tone-poem. Finally, the song Playing with Fire – the apogee of this recording – is a rapturous celebration of the idiomatic and the true spirit of Maqueque.
Ms Bunnett has often suggested that Charles Mingus played a pivotal role in the formative years of her musical journey. From time to time, she has returned the favour by playing his music in the unusual [for most Mr Mingus’ repertory] setting of Afro-Cuban arrangements. But even here in Ms Bunnett’s [and Mr Cramer’s] arrangements there have been some extraordinary harmonic and rhythmic twists to Mr Mingus’ complex originals, the kind of which are filled with surprise even by the composer’s own unexpected and abrupt rhythmic changes. This album features Jump Monk, not often heard even among Mingus repertory bands. Another period piece is the group’s version of the iconic piece by the legendary Bud Powell Tempis Fugit. It is here that the percussive brilliance of Maqueque is really put on display and where the ensemble’s bassist Miss Marerro is particularly outstanding.
Original compositions of other members of the band – particularly Miss Marerro’s Bolero a un Sueño and violinist Daniela Olano’s song Daniela’s Theme proves that Maqueque is not merely an Afro-Cuban band that plays excellently in the Afro-Cuban idiom. The group is maturing multidimensionally and in a prismatic way. This is also evident in the sonic palette of the band. It is not simply that Maqueque has changed things up by bringing in a guitarist and/or a violinist. Listening to Donna Grantis play on the six charts that she is featured on, especially Tomorrow, and listening to Daniela Olano play on her featured song showcase soli that are both heart-stoppingly beautiful and awe-inspiring. This inspiration comes from the artistic vision and leadership of Ms Bunnett, which pushes the younger musicians to raise their game to unchartered realms. I would call that extra dimension: intensity and elevation. And it reverberates everywhere on Jane Bunnett and Maqueque’s album Playing with Fire.
YouTube Video – Jane Bunnett & Maqueque: Tomorrow
Music – 1: Human Race; 2: Tempus Fugit; 3: Sierra; 4: Daniela’s Theme; 5: A God Unknown; 6: Turquoise/Turquesa; 7: Bolero a un Sueño; 8: Jump Monk; 9: Tomorrow; 10: Playing with Fire.
Maqueque is – Jane Bunnett: flutes and soprano saxophone; Dánae Olano: piano and vocals; Yissy García: drums; Mary Paz: percussion and vocals; Tailin Marerro: contrabass and electric bass, and vocals; Joanna Majoko: vocals; Daniela Olano: violin; Special Guest – Donna Grantis: guitar [1 – 3, 5, 9, 10]; Gerald French: tambourine and cowbell .
Released – 2023
Label – Linus Entertainment 
Runtime – 46:18
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