Dedicated to the memory of Cuban singer Merceditas Valdes, Jane Bunnett's latest release brings back the "spirits of Havana" with an ensemble that features pianist Hilario Duran, bassist Carlitos del Puerto, conguero Tata Guines, and includes support from over a dozen others, including tenor saxophonist Yosvanny Terry, Bunnett's husband, trumpeter Larry Cramer, and the Cuban Folkloric All-Stars. The all-stars are ten singers and percussionists who chant in a call & response manner that stems directly from centuries of traditional, spiritual music around the world. Merceditas Valdes is featured on "Inolvidable," Amor Por Ti" and "Coco."
"Descarga a la Hindemuth" is a jam session with guest pianist Frank Emilio improvising on a theme by classical composer Paul Hindemuth and inviting the others to "open up" as well. Bunnett joins the jam session on flute; this piece includes a classy bass solo from del Puerto. Duran's composition "San Lazaro" features Bunnett's blazing soprano saxophone alongside the pianist's powerful up-tempo thrills. Bunnett's compositions "Chamalongo" and "Freedom At Last" make excellent use of the jazz solo voice; the former features Bunnett's fiery Coltrane-inspired soprano sax with folkloric chants, and the latter spotlights young lion tenor saxophonist Terry, alongside timbalero Raulito Hernandez, and Duran's percussive piano.
The rumba "Yambu" features Bunnett's flute soaring along with the hypnotic piano artistry of Duran and the tasteful acoustic bass syncopation of del Puerto. In general, the bassist and folkloric percussionists provide ostinato lines while the pianist joins other lead instruments to light fires. The Cuban Folkloric All-Stars appear on all but two tracks; the traditional chants warp standard intonation habits, and at times offer a laid-back "devil may care" atmosphere. Valdes and Guines, on the other hand, offer traditional Cuban folk music with more verve. The liner notes fail to identify several important soloists, omit composer credits, and do not make note of the recording dates. These minor carps aside, Bunnett's latest jazz venture with traditional Cuban authenticity is exciting and a fine tribute to the late Merceditas Valdes.