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Jane Bunnett and Maqueque

The celebrated Canadian soprano saxophonist is embracing voices again. But these voices are of a slightly different sort. The Creole Choir…

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The celebrated Canadian soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett is embracing voices again. But these voices are of a slightly different sort. The Creole Choir of Cuba is long gone to other things but Ms. Bunnett is back with an exquisite new ensemble of vocalists and instrumentalists named “Maqueque”, which means, as Ms. Bunnett’s short note on the CD sleeve points out, “the spirit of a young girl, in the ancient Afro-Cuban dialect.” Now it’s no secret that Jane Bunnett feels, deep down in her soul, that she has been reincarnated in a Cuban skin, at least musically speaking. Inhabiting this together with her remarkable jazz doppelganger, “Havana Jane” as she is often referred to, has assembled an impressive catalogue of this molten music that must surely be the envy of more famous media personages such as Ry Cooder and even Peter Gabriel. But that’s another story altogether. This one is all about Jane Bunnett and Maqueque.

Jane Bunnett and Maqueque
Jane Bunnett and Maqueque

Here is further evidence that Ms. Bunnett’s musical ingenuity cannot be overstated. It shows in the craftsmanship of her compositions – she has four on this album – and in the genius of her playing too. As a soprano saxophonist and, indeed as a flutist as well, Ms. Bunnett occupies a rarified realm. In her saxophonist’s role, she explores the tone textures and timbres of her instrument as few saxophonists do. She goes deep into the recesses of the instrument to extract the purest of pure tones. Here she is reminiscent of her former teacher – Steve Lacy. This – along with her virtuoso flute playing – she has combined with various ensembles over the years. There are some fine examples of tunes that she shares with the group Maqueque, on this album, such as “Papineau,” “Tormenta” and the exquisite cover version of the Bill Withers chart “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone,” which features the glorious voices of Maqueque.

This young quintet, brought together for this and (hopefully) other projects as well, should not be mistaken for simply a vocal group. They are that, of course, plus a lot more. Daymé Arocena is the lead vocalist of the ensemble, but Magdelys Savigne is an exciting percussionist as well as being a vocalist. The same holds true for Yissy García, the flamboyant, virtuoso drummer, and for “Yusa,” the bassist (and singer, songwriter, guitarist) who does not shy away from playing sinewy, growling lines. Dánae Olano is the ingenious pianist who comes to this group in the enormous tradition of Cuban pianists sitting on her slender shoulders. Célia Jiménez is another bassist in the group (and a fantastic bassoonist). Together they are a potent force: just listen to the bass, drums and piano on “New Angel”. And more than that, these girls are accomplished composers too. Small wonder then, that they give the impression they are veterans, which they are – this is just their first recording together.

This is another great album produced by Ms. Bunnett’s long-time partner Larry Cramer, and it also features The Heavyweights Brass Band, who are returning the favor – Ms. Bunnett played on their last album, Brasstronomical. And The Heavyweights appear on “Song for Haiti,” really, the pièce de résistance of this record. Maestro Hilario Durán also wrote the string arrangements that can be heard throughout the album. He also plays a terrific piano solo on “Mamey Colorao.” Among the other guests is the beautiful and accomplished vocalist, Eliana Cuevas as well as her husband, Jeremy Ledbetter, who also plays melodica, as does the Cuban voice artist, Telmary Díaz. But this album belongs to Jane Bunnett and Maqueque. And what a stellar one it is.

Tracks – 1. Papineau; 2. Maqueque; 3. Tormenta; 4. Guajira; 5. Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone. 6. New Angel; 7. Mamey Colorado; 8. Canto a Babba; 9. De La Habana a Canada; 10. Song For Haiti.

Personnel – Jane Bunnett: flutes, soprano sax, piccolo, marímbula, voice; Yissy García: drums; Daymé Arocena: voice; Magdelys Savigne: batás, congas,  percussion, voice; Dánae Olano: piano, voice; Yusa: fretless electric bass, tres guitar, voice; Célia Jiménez: electric bass, voice.

Special Guests – Eliana Cuevas: voice; Jeremy Ledbetter: melodica; Hilario Durán: piano on “Song For Haiti” and piano solo on “Mamey Colorao”; Telmary Díaz: voice on “Song For Haiti”; Heavyweights Brass Band on “Song For Haiti”; Christopher Butcher: Brass arrangements on “Song For Haiti”.

Label: Justin Time Records
Release date: June 2014
Website: janebunnett.com
Buy music on: amazon

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.

Featured Albums

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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Roberto Jr. Vizcaino, Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaino Guillot - Photo Nayeli Mejia
Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot - Photo: Nayeli Mejia.

Listening to the music of Siempre Más Allá, it certainly seems that the young French pianist, Adrien Brandeis has strengthened the belief that he is a proverbial citizen of the Afro-Caribbean universe. To be clear Mr Brandeis still loves all music and swings as hard as any pianist who loves Black American Music – that is, music that you can sing and dance to. But also continues to be beguiled by the rolling thunder of Afro-Caribbean music. The wild call of the rhythms and the joie de vivre of the questing melodies and harmonies not only appeal to his ear, but also speak to him in the hidden parts of his heart.

By his own admission Siempre Más Allá took root during three tours to Mexico undertaken under the aegis of the Fédération des Alliances Françaises du Mexique. The virtually all-Afro-Cuban repertoire of the album radiates charm at every turn. These disarmingly natural and eloquent performances bring out the music’s inherent drama and penchant for tumbao with a deft touch while indulging Brandeis’ lyrical instincts to the full. Meticulously balanced, the four quartet pieces, the trio and duo pieces feel as if they are chamber works. Brandeis’ astonishingly insightful playing is musically captivating and technically blemishless. Each phrase rings so completely true that one can’t imagine the music played any other way.

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

The album features Mr Brandeis and a group of very accomplished musicians. These include the celebrated Cuban percussionist Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot [on two tracks] and his son Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Mexican drummer José Loria Triay make up the wall of percussion. The Brasilian bassist Giliard Lopes brings his distinctive veritas to the whole rhythm section. The big surprise here is, perhaps, the presence of the great Cuban Horacio “El Negro” Hernández sitting in the drum chair on La buena vibra.

Siempre Más Allá is an affirmation of Brandeis’ enduring love and natural affinity for Latin music. Not surprisingly the music seems to echo the famous Latin American phrase: “¡Que rico bailo yo!” [which, in English, exclaims: “How well I dance!”]. This is no hyperbole as the music – in its pulses and rhythms show as Brandeis traverses the rhythmic topography of the Caribbean and Latin America. Along the way Brandeis plunged into the world of changüí, the chacarera, Brasilian gaucho music and the ancient melodic thunder of bàtá drums.

From the get-go listeners will find themselves immersed in quite another world of rippling percussive grooves. The track Ek Bakam, for instance, conjures the intricate architecture; the line and flow of an epic Mayan civilisation located in the Yucatan. Narratives from the Latin world abound – often paying homage to famous traditional musicians. Pancho’s Power is one such chart inspired by the vivid world of the legendary trio Los Panchos. Brandeis gives his percussion section a lot of space when he puts the spotlight on them on Tierra de Oportunidades – a wistful memory of the pianist’s three tours to Mexico, which is also incidentally the popular provincial slogan of the Mexican state of Guanajuato. On Huachi-Huachi Brandeis digs deep into the epicurean delights of the only Latin country in North America with this song in praise of a kind of gourmet Mexican fish: the huachinango.

Brandeis then celebrates his association with percussion colourist Roberto Vizcaíno Jr. with the extraordinary music of Vizcaíno Blues, a piece unique with its exploratory chromaticisms and elegant sonorities that beautifully capture the eloquence of the percussionist in whose praise the music is written. Mindful of the fact that Vizcaíno is Cuban but makes his home in Mexico, Brandeis shapes the rhythmic and harmonic palette of the piece accordingly. On La Buena Vibra Brandeis delivers astonishing pianistic fireworks in the piece’s melodic and harmonic lines, played at a frenetic pace, to mirror the style of its dedicatee, Michel Camilo. The pianist demonstrates an authentic home-grown grasp of Cuban music as he reimages Voy a Apagar la Luz, by the legendary and late-singer Armando Manzanero, here adapted as a wistful solo piano work. Meanwhile on the dizzying ride of Humpty Dumpty the pianist pays homage to another idol: Chick Corea, by revisiting the sparkling composition of the recently-deceased piano maestro.

It is hard not to be mesmerised by this spirited and finely nuanced music artfully crafted in an album by Adrien Brandeis, a pianist who is about to take the world by storm with a recording that is going to be one of the finest by any musician located outside the Latin American sub-continent.

Deo gratis…

Tracks – 1: Huachi Huachi; 2: Alegría; 3: Pancho’s Power; 4: Ek balam; 5: Un peu d’espoir; 6: Vizcaíno’s Blues; 7: Tierra de oportunidades; 8: Humpty Dumpty; 9: La buena vibra; 10: Voy a apagar la luz

Musicians – Adrien Brandeis: piano; Giliard Lopes: contrabass; José Loria Triay: drums; Roberto Vizcaíno Jr: congas and bàtá drums. Featuring Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot: percussion [1, 6]; Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: drums [9]

Released – 2022
Label – Mantodea Music Productions
Runtime – 58:25

YouTube Video – Adrien Brandeis – Siempre más allá (EPK)

YouTube Audio – Adrien Brandeis – Vizcaíno’s Blues

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