Jane Bunnett: The Spirit's Dancing in the Flesh!
Skate... shape... blow your breath away... make a turn for the fire that burns bright...The Island is beckoning... See how Jane Bunnett is coming down the island with gleaming brass saxophone blowing... The 'babalawo' places the tray in front of him and taps rhythmically...
Larry Cramer and Jane Bunnett are actually headed into the heartland of Cuba. To the Matanzas and Cienfuegos. Heart and soul of Cuba folklore have been awakened again. Cuban Odyssey (EMI Canada, 2002)its CD and attendant DVD finally documents the spectacular journey that is two decades in the making. Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer begin to retrace The Lost Steps, so to speak, of Alejo Carpentier y Valmont. The great Cuban novelist and musicologist, one of the first practitioners of magical realism, described an epic journey into the unknown where he is in search of the magical elements of pure music.
Jane Bunnett's journey begins in Havana before it progresses into the depths of the Matanzas and further south to Cienfuegos. Her extravagant expedition is heralded with the free-blowing "Arrival," a sort of fantasy impromptu... the kind that 'Trane would have made were he alive and able to break the embargo to travel to Cuba. Before the dust settles, there is a joyous gathering of rumberos for a high-spirited performance of the Cuban classic, "Quitate el Chaqueton" (Take off your Jacket). You might think that this would set the tone for the journey that is to follow... you may be just about right. Importantly, the cast of musicians also features Guillermo Rubalcaba, father of the renowned pianist, Gonzalo Rubalcaba. The partyquite literallybegins! And a host of characters join inincluding Felix Chappotin, the legendary trumpeter, Rubalcaba, Changuito on timbales, the late Tata Guines, on congas and El Nene, lead vocalist of Los Clasicos del Son.
But it is really Merceditas Valdes whose spirit hovers over the recording, who casts a shadow as deep and long as Billie Holiday. Fittingly, the recording features "A la Rhumba," a track that Merceditas Valdes recorded but never was released until now. "Suite Matanzas" follows. This is an extended piece and features the voices of the spectacular Los Munequitos de Matanzas. Almost like interlopers, Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer steel their way through a series of traditional songs rarely heard outside Cuba. Bunnett describes the almost mystical experience: "As I was playing, I felt so elated, totally carried away by the collective energy generated by all of these musicians and by the audience."
From the Matanzas to Cienfuegos... Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer imbue the spirit and music of Los Naranjos, a pioneering son band founded there in 1926! Their contribution is celebrated with a version of the song that actually made them famous, "El Diablo Tun Tun." Both Jane Bunnett and Cramer jump right in as if there was always room for them in a song that only Cubans usually play!
The final stopover on the Cuban sonic expedition is Camaguey. Here Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer intermingle with the fabulously rare ten-voice choir, Desandann. Made up of descendents of Haitian slaves and emigres, Desandann sings neither Spanish, nor Yoruban, but actually in Patois! Their repertoire is priceless! The music draws a line from African-American Gospel choirs to a much more ancient spiritual tradition... Carpentier's Lost Steps come to life... The music is exceptionally moving spiritually, but also traverses the landscape of Afro-rhythms... Again Jane Bunnett tunes in almost as if she were a musician in the skin of Desandannlike Sanders and the Gnawas in Trance of the Seven Colors! Again, it's as if she belongs there! "Alabans," performed by Desandann alone has a similar haunting African-derived 6/8 rhythm. Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer then join in the calypso-like "Prizon," a song almost unheard of in the Cuban repertoire. Journey's end is a spectacular celebration, entitled "Ron con Ron," written by Tata Guines and featuring an all-star cast including Rubalcaba, Changuito, Pancho Quinto, Maximino and the celebrated tres guitar of Papi Oviedo!
There is a burning desire to honor the masters of the pastnot musicians alone, but the ingenuity of the keepers of the cultural flamethe writers and composers who turn human history into works of art. They bring pleasure to generations of listenersboth aficionados and plain ordinary folk. The flames grow until they cannot be put out except by "turning your greatest dreams into reality." Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer have this dream for a long time... "Of focusing on the soprano saxophone, engulfed in a sea of beautiful harmonies with a string Quartet..."