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Highly Opinionated

Jane Bunnett: The Spirit's Dancing in the Flesh!

By Published: April 24, 2008
Flashback to 1982: Somewhere in the space and time between practice and writing and soaking in the scene in many cities, Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer take a break. Too broke to find an expensive resort, they gravitate to Cuba. They soak up more than just the Caribbean sun... Happily, the holiday is syncopated; steeped in dance and the rhythm of the night, filled with the haunting sound of 'clave...' 'tumba...' 'congas' and palm-nuts on tray and tapper... The 'babalawo' places the tray in front of him and taps rhythmically... 'Orun-mila' is invoked, and some other 'Orisha' has been placated, for... The spirits danced in the flesh! They came and pirouetted and shook sensuously and endlessly... Cultures begin to collide! Jane Bunnett's and Cuba's... Heaven's gate is opened and Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer were touched in the nerves of the heart: They kept returning—sometimes for weeks at a time... Until they were drenched 'on the one' and to the core with backbeat of the 'clave' and the 'timbales' and the 'batas...' The rest is probably anecdotal, but the music that came forth after the spirits of Havana came out and played night after night with the bravest kindred spirits from a continent away!

Spirits of Havana (Pimenta Records, 1991) is one of a kind; one that gives much to the leading edge of Cuban musical thought as it does to the overall language of jazz. The Santeria unleash the heralds... the 'bata' and other drums and the chants call down the gods of the Yoruba, while Jane Bunnett's flute snakes a path through the drumming—playing beautifully off the tonal variety of the variety of drums... this sets the stage for the liturgical hymn of the 'Lukumi' and the spirits are drawn out of the skies by the greatest proponent of Santeria ritual music—the late Merceditas Valdes. She is the album's center of gravity... its attendant 'Lukumi' spirit throughout the record. Her husband—the late Guillermo Baretto—who died shortly before Spirits was completed was the guiding light of the project. Baretto composed one of its most enduring tracks, the angular "Yo Siempre Oddara," especially for Jane Bunnett. We keep returning to 'Lukumi' liturgy—especially the flute and piano swirl of "Yemaya Asesu"—and much more as the album dances on to the high energy of Cramer's "La Luna Arriba," a Coltrane-esque romp into the sacred space of the Santeria and the 'Lukumi' drummers led by the tumbas of Baretto and the flaming keyboard work of Gonzalo Rubalcaba—one of three piano masters featured on the record (the others are the formidable Frank Emilio Flynn and Hilario Duran Torres). Jane Bunnett's flute and saxophone are positively molten, melding into Cuban snakes as if to propitiate a 'Lukumi' sylph... The album boils over with liquid flames, into the melting pot of the spirits of Havana!

Divination... sacrifice... steady beat of tray and tapper until the more permanent backdrop of the carved motifs of the tapper and the tray constituting an artistic exegesis of the forces that shape the human experience and the universal needs in the quest for enlightenment!

Much is happening...Both Larry Cramer and Jane Bunnett with songs in their hearts and the music and musicians of Cuba constantly beckoning, are swept away for weeks and months... Cuba always on the molten horizon, Messers Bunnett and Cramer hunker down and focus on some projects that have been bubbling for some time!

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