"The ant's a centaur in his dragon's world.
Pull down thy vanity, it is not man
Made courage, or made order, or made grace,
Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.
Learn of the green world what can be thy place
In scaled invention or true artistry,
Pull down thy vanity,
Paquin, pull down!
The green casque has outdone your elegance."
From "Canto LXXXI," in The Cantos of Ezra Pound
"I see the ancient being, the slave, the sleeping one,
Blanket his fieldsa body, a thousand bodies a man, a thousand
Women swept by the sable whirlwind, charred with rain and night
Stoned with a leaden weight of statuary:
Juan Splitstones, son of Wiracocha,
Juan Coldbelly, heir of the green star
Juan Barefoot, grandson to the turquoise
Rising to birth with me as my own brother."
From "IX" in The Heights of Macchu Picchu,
"Things that have no claims, such as for instance:
stones that smell the water, men who go through
periods as trees, are good for poetry."
From "Matter of Poetry" in The Descriptive Grammar of the Ground,
Manoel de Barros
We were still getting over our existential angst then. We cared little about protecting our lives, preferring instead to dive off the deep endliterally... and figuratively. We took up causes that everyone else abandoned and we fought for them: Africa... Cuba... Brasil... Chile... Argentina... Civilization corroding, and with it Kulchur... because the dilettante was winning and with that art was in decay. The capitalist economics of wealth was triumphing over our art... We smoked fat cigars, down to the very end, until the stubs burned our fingers as we held jealously onto them. We were ready to die for what we believed in. And so we wrotepoetry and music. Our muse was Pound, Ezra; and where there was Pound there was also Neruda, Pablo, and Manoel de Barros.
If we fasted at Lent, but at sundown there was wine and samba! We showed our support for Angela Davis... Stephen Biko, but always there was poetry and music... as every word meant freedom, so also did every note that rang from our fingertips as we beat the hide of the djembe and surdo and bata... and from our lips as we exhaled and blue notes tumbled down rocks and stones that sang while our fingers bled and our lips cracked. And we agonized over the sound that poured forth. Did it sound right? Was it what we wanted to really say? Did it come from our souls, set free by vers libre and all that jazz? From rhumba and all that jazz? From music and the wide world out there, waiting to be found and sung about. We would die for every word spoken and every note sungfrom lips and sax and drum and flute and bass and trumpet! From slave and freeman.
The sixties turned into the seventies... Black Panthers growled and Vietnam burned with napalm. The seventies gave way to the eighties... Soon MTV was a bigger virus than AIDs! But then our souls were strong. We wrote and sang and played into the night... We had heroes and were not going to let that be forgotten. We lived in awenot only of Pound and Neruda and de Barros, but also of Pops, Duke, Mingus, and Roach; Miles, Coltrane, Tyner, Garrison and Elvin Jones...
We delved into many new stellar regions, where we discovered a galaxy of new stars... Ornette and Eric Dolphy and other stars also rising... Dewey Redman, Don Pullen, Sonny Fortune, Archie Shepp and Rashied Ali... Charlie Haden, Carla Bley and George Adams... Pharaoh Sanders and Don Cherry...
Walls collapsed and borders crumbled... But who knew that we would be bathed in the cleansing fire of Essaouria and Maalem Mahmoud Ghania and his mystical Gnawas... washing us clean with 'guembri' and 'krakeb...' We fell prey to the charms of the Yoruba and Babatunde Olatunji's spectacular drums of passion... Bewitched and made new by Bechir Attar and the Master Musicians of Jajouka... While back in Brasil, and Tom Jobim and Elis, Chico Buarque, Gil, Milton Nascimento and Caetano Veloso made us laugh and cry, and love again... Egberto Gismonti and Nana Vasconcelos took us back, dancing, to the rebirth of our roots! But we knew not what would become of Cuba, so brutally blockaded... Who would hear their 'son' and the 'rumba'? Who would feel the vibrations of their 'batas,' 'congas,' 'timbales' and clave as they carved out a special music and melded it with the heartbeat of Africa, gospel and jazz too? What would become of the legacy of Ignacio Pinhero and Celia Cruz and Merceditas Valdes, Tata Guines, Guillermo Baretto Brown, Patato and Pancho Quinto? With 'tumbadora' and 'batas''okonkolo,' 'itotele' and 'lya'whipping up a spiritual storm, they paid homage to 'Ana,' as they recalled the trance of 'Ifa...' 'Lukumi...' and propitiated the 'Orishas' of 'Santeria'!
We were seekers. We took all in like heady smoke, this sonic boom from across the universe! This jazz that poured out into our hearts like mercury, tainting us delightfully... forever!
Through it all there was Jane Bunnett, with burnished soprano and tenor; and silver flute... notes from deep with her soul, pirouetting, shimmering continuum, notes pulsed to the frequency of every heartbeat... seemingly plucked from the beginning of time! Poetry and music... urging the heart to pray fervently and the sensuous body to dance madly! We called it jazz... Jane Bunnett's sound of jazz!
Like those few who have come before herspiritual ancestors so to speakJane Bunnett's music breathes with the unbridled sense of the mortality of every note, thus to speak to the heart telling it that this is the last sound it will ever hear; thus to create within that heart a multiplicity of ecstasies that live in the moment and die in that momentous heartbeat, only to be reborn in the memory... in the sixth sense and tenth dimension of jazz! This uninhibited ability to live by tactility and to give of her musical self unconditionally enables her to imbue every note with the blue burn of energy. This is what makes her so unique. That, pulling down all vanity, she is able to subvert the self in favor of the musicto risk her life for every note!
Her saxophones and flutes are extensions of her lithe frame. Her musical ancestors traverse the wide landscape of come Valhalla. Spiritually, she owes more to Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders than to Steve Lacy, with whom she spent some time in study, in Paris. Her flutes are hyperprismatic, dashing off with sharp glissandi in a myriad conceivable directions in search of the perfect note... the perfect moment to captureonly to set freelike a beautiful butterfly! Only His Royal Outness, Eric Dolphy has distinguished himself thus! Bunnett shimmers like molten metal on soprano sax, often reaching such high and lonesome inflections to the music no onenot even her idol, Pharaoh Sanderscan produce from a reed. You would imagine cross-referencing embouchurefrom flute to sax and back again!
Her avowedly 'late start' is simply a matter of chronology. She was born with 'it'that innate artistrynascitur non fitthat makes her a rarity even in the holy office of jazz! Jane Bunnett plays sax and flute like they are organic parts of her voice; that grow out of her body and she improvises with such great prowess that she often hits notes and pulls off phrases that only the human voice could sing. Moreover she also writes with such a wonderful sense of self-assurance, dreaming in so many cultural states of mind that she comes closest to becoming a musician sans frontiersomething very few musicians are today... Like Pharaoh Sanders and Bheki Mseleku, Randy Weston and Bill Laswell...
She was once a classical pianist until tendonitis cut short what would surely have been an illustrious legacy... she turned to reeds and woodwinds and her epiphany came when she heard Charles Mingus perform in a big band that included George Adams and Rashaan Roland Kirk in San Francisco. The two big men even stopped by at her table to talk but she was smitten long before thatwhen Mingus was delivering his own ecclusiastics as his legacy unfolded, post-Ellington, as he was touring to promote a new record. Proverbially, her artistic life soared from then on, although it is hard to imagine how she would not have found her own level irrespective of the lives that touched hers! On the contrary, she was born to touch lives, as she created and performed, breathing heart and soul and squeezing every drop of adrenaline through flute and saxophone. Her technique is unsurpassed, but her expression and dynamics are so personal that both flute and saxophones have become virtual extensions of her body. It was as if Charlie Parker had spoken directly to her! "Don't play the saxophone," he once famously said, "let it play you." And then, "If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn."
Of course she knew that! If Bird did not fire off the anecdote, then someone else might have! Perhaps even a ghostly encounter with the spirit of Bird himself! Jane Bunnett lives in the very heart of history and makes some herself! And the 'Gnawas' and 'Orishas' are in attendance, watching over kindly it always seems...right from zero hour! In Cuba a sacrifice to the orishas bring forth the wood sylphs and spirits that haunt the heart and mind, undimmed for decades to come, but, perhaps sheosmotinis not yet ready... Then journeying through the ocean of music, several great names echo through her short sharp and celestial history...
She recalled two of them from the heady days in the run-up to making her first record with producer-husband, Larry Cramer. The long out-of-print, In Dew Time (Dark Light, 1988) featured Don Pullen and Dewey Redman. "This was a glorious bonus," she says, "I would have been happy just to have Don... but then Larry and I thought... well Larry wrote "In Dew Time" (features Bunnett, Cramer, trumpet and Redman, tenor saxophone) with Dewey in mind... He was in town and we went up to him during a break in the sets... gave him a tape and he said he'd listen to it... A day or so later, the phone rang and Dewey said: ..."sounds good... Yeah, [I'd] like to do it." As you would imagine, Larry and I were thrilled! I mean to have both Don and Dewey on the disc together... I must have died and gone to heaven!" In Dew Time showcases early Jane Bunnett and Cramer. The writing and playing is so remarkable that it hardly feels like a 'first' record... rather a work by already mature artist... a career jump-started to the stars!
The nervous energy burns furiously and is white hot. Back in New York, Don Pullen is ready for a whole new encounter. New York Duets (Music & Arts Program of America/ Denon, 1989) is an audacious record. Its magic sparks to light a fire in the not so establishment in 1989. Jane Bunnett bristles and surprises throughout. By now she is forming a symbiotic relationship with a pianist who was outward bound, and like Dolphy, years ahead of his time as well. Pullen has just come off making an audacious record of his own: New Beginnings (Blue Note, 1988) is full of the explosive fire that launched Pullen into the stratosphere. On Duets, Pullen is pushed to the limit by Bunnett with a program that is challenging to say the least. Musicians as matadors...' musicians as hunted spirits too! ...Is Don Pullen is a matador here or is Jane Bunnett...? Both run riot on the inspired program. The renditions of Monk are sharp... clearly focused! Pullen drives Bunnett hard and she responds with garrulous saxophones and charming, natural ability to respond to everything that is thrown at her. Jane Bunnett also composes four magnificent piecesnotably "Ginestera"and arranges and renames a Cuban folk song "For Merceditas" on which Pullen is restrained and beautiful... almost dream-like! So are "Make Someone Happy," an exquisite tribute to Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson and Pullen's own "Gratitude," which he wrote to remember Pops, Duke, Monk, Mahalia Jackson, 'Trane, Eric Dolphy and a host of others who touched his life.
Jane Bunnett's dynamic is brilliant from the first note... always. She appears to know exactly the sound that will open the heart or the head. Because her attack is on-the-nerve, she is never wrong. She wows her growing audience, New York, Toronto, the US and Canada... but more importantly, the musicians! This is just what it was like when Bird and Diz were swooping down from their heavenly flights, beboppin' their way to earth fleetingly! So also do Jane Bunnett and Don Pullen swoop down... Live at the Sweet Basil (Music & Arts Program of America/Denon, 1990) next! New York has its first glimpse of the sensation. Nerves fray, but the performance is of the highest order... Pullen egging on Bunnett who is ensconced in shimmering galaxyCramer is on trumpet, Billy Hart on drums and another Canadian, Kieran Overs commands his bull! It is a memorable evening, not the least because Jane Bunnett sallies forthlike a piper at the gates of dawnon a majestic version of "You Don't Know What Love Is," blowing the spirit of Dolphy back into our minds and hearts, with Overs tugging, not gut, but heart-strings and Billy Hart keeping it all at a steady sizzle with brushes arms and legs a-flurry... you almost forget the magnificent Pullen, until he tears, with quiet fury, the choruses down! And, of course, there's 16min of "Double Arc Jake" and the inimitable dialogue Pullen and Jane Bunnett share, like preachers on a Sunday, Holy Rollin'!
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 returningsometimes 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 drummingplaying 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 musicthe late Merceditas Valdes. She is the album's center of gravity... its attendant 'Lukumi' spirit throughout the record. Her husbandthe late Guillermo Barettowho 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' liturgyespecially 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 Rubalcabaone 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!
Jane Bunnett appears to have hit her most intriguing and creative yet. The spirits, indeed, have been propitiated! She is back in the studio for an album, The Water is Wide (Evidence Records, 1993) that not only honors some of the finest in musicRahsaan Roland Kirkwith an almost speech-like flute on her version of Kirk's "Serenade to a Cuckoo." She heralds the time spent with Steve Lacy with some breathtaking soprano soloing on two Monk originals"Pannonica" and "Brake's Sake." She is like burnished gold on hers and Larry Cramer's originals"Elements of Freedom," "Time Again," "The Real Truth," Burning Tear" and "Lucky Strike." Cramer is a singular revelation. His brassy tone harks back to Clifford Brown and Booker Littleand he and Jane Bunnett often play off each other the way Dolphy and Little did in their heyday. Cramer also knows the importance space and silence and in soloing often reveals a wonderful sense of bothmuch like another great horn man, Clarence Shaw did, much to the delight of Charles Mingus! The title track, "The Water is Wide," may be buried towards the end of the disc, but it is well worth the wait. Sheila Jordan and Jeanne Lee grace the vocals and Sheila Jordan is magnificent (on both "You Must Believe in Spring" as well as the title track), while Jane Bunnett reveals an inimitable, sensitive side to her, one that has a huge bearing on the piano work of Don Pullenespecially when he joins her on such moving charts as "The Water is Wide" (as well as on previous encounters, e.g., "Gratitude," (on New York Duets) and "You Don't Know What Love Is" (Live at the Sweet Basil). The album, is like few others by Jane Bunnett, but it does herald her distinctive voice in the major field of play, although the albumlike almost all of her earlier recordsdoes not get the right plug and therefore does not enjoy its just desserts.
What happens next in the grand scheme of things is both brilliant and enlightening! Jane Bunnett, by now a talent worthy of wider recognition (DownBeat, 1992 and '93) is far from done with paying homage to some of her mentors contacts Paul Bley to pay on some European dates with her. Bley cannot make them, but agrees to record with her. It isn't until well into 1993 that things start to fall into place, with an impish call from the pianist to Bunnett and a message, "to call me back, soon, if this is going to go ahead!" Jane Bunnett is left breathless. Double Time (Justin Time, 1994) takes shape on two balmy days in Montreal in August of '93. Not knowing what to expect was part of the element of surprise. But true to form, Bley refuses to discuss repertoire, except to say that he will not play anyone else's music.... As a result, Bley, or Bunnett, or both write the entire programwith the exception of the Prince Lasha/Sonny Simmons chart, "Music Matador..." Perhaps written is an overstatement, for there is nothing programmatic about the record. In fact, if anything, charts like "Sequel," and "B&B on the Rocks" as well as "Please Don't Ever Leave Me" and "A Dozen Blues" give the record an aura that came with the seminal Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) session by Miles Davis! Legend has it that after the record was complete, Paul Bley, so pleased with the results, asks Jane Bunnett with characteristic candor to "fire all the pianists she worked with!"
Happily, not only does Jane Bunnett take that with a pinch of salt, she then goes on plunge herself into the music of South America, with two albums, unparalleled in scope and critical success. The first is Rendez-vous Brazil Cuba (Justin Time, 1995), a combustible album featuring the legendary Brazilian brothers, Filo and Celso Machado (guitars, voice and bamboo jews harp, assorted percussion and voice) and the music of Hermeto Pascoal, Pixinguinha and Jane Bunnett herself. This is another breathtaking record, with music that appears to glide in and out of Brazil and Cuba, pulling in its wake the deepest roots of an art inspired by an ever-moving pilgrimage from Africa to Haiti, to Cuba and Brazil... tracks like "Choro de Pere" and "Forro Na Vovo" leave you gasping for air in the manner of the greatest African-South American musical cultural tradition. It is music that firmly establishes Jane Bunnett as a singularly important musician who has done important things to bring the music of South America to the world in the same way that Machito, Paquito D'Rivera, Joao Gilberto and Tom Jobim did decades earlier.
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...
Bunnett is emboldened in her quest for libre for all things African-American...especially those things Cuban! On her next album, Jane Bunnett and the Cuban Piano Masters, (EMI Music Canada, 1996), Bunnett takes on a new challengeto make a percussion-less record of Cuban music! She dispenses with the heavy percussion ensembles here and (all credit to Larry Cramer, who produces here) joins forces with the celebrated composer and pianist Jose Maria Vitier and the spry, romantic genius Frank Emilio Flynn, who plays solo on his ethereal composition, "Midnight Theme." Vitier writes and arranges most of the music, adding his own orchestral touch to the music he graces with his piano playing. Meanwhile Jane Bunnett makes another record, thriving on the melodic inventiveness of her partners as she translates their creativity to gentle lilting parts for sax and flute (listen quietly to "Fugado Y Son Nocturno" and to "Tony Y Jesulito")! Once again, Jane Bunnett also showcases her brilliant technique and just how adaptable she is to various idiomatic dialects that make up the canvas of jazz.
Freed to orbit the musical universe now that the record is out, Jane Bunnett is coursing the Latin landscape and this can only be auspicious for the art of jazz! The 'Orishas' and the spirits in Santeria are right royally pleased!
In the run-up to her big push inland, Jane Bunnett frees the flute of its orchestral personatoo prim and proper and less swing, perhapsas she cuts loose on Havana Flute Summit (Naxos Jazz, 1998). Here she is joined by Orlando 'Maraca' Valle, Richard Egues and Celine Valle as well as pianist non-pareil Hilario Duran Torres, who lays down lusty rhythmic grooves along with the battery of percussionists as the flutes of Bunnett, the Valles and Egues soar ebulliently. "Oscar's Descarga," Hilario Duran's thumping "Amanezco" and "Maraca's Tumbao" provide a perfect foil for Jane Bunnett's tribute to Don Pullen, "Sunshower" and Larry Cramer's typically free, "Expectation."
Practicing your chops is de rigueur in any musicmore so in the art of jazz, where, as Bird once said, "you practice...practice...practice...and then you finally go up on the bandstand and just wail!" He was referring to intensity... the only way in which commitment to the genre can be expressed... and also the only way in which you can play what is in your head and your heart! So once again Jane Bunnett stakes her life on her beliefs... Havana Flute Summit is by no means, a minor album set on displaying technique. On the contrary, it is an expedition in to the joy of making Latin music every which way possible, while also bring the flute front and center!
The Jane Bunnett expedition is now approaching critical mass. She is now deep inside the divination system of Cuba, placating the muses that inhabit Chamalongo (EMI Canada, 1998)... Her eponymous album is like a Santa Maria or a Santa Clara berthing by the shoreline of dense and mysterious island. As the music and the ritual takes over, you begin to find acceptance and freedom of the spirit.
The cauldron of clay is bubbling over... 'Lucero,' messenger of the crossroads and guardian of the gods announces the arrival of 'Mama Chola,' ruler of the river, love and beauty and 'Tiembla Tierra,' creator of the earth, mankind and ruler of the universe... Merceditas Valdes presides as medium and Jane Bunnett raises sax and flute to lips, to pay homage to the 'Santeria...' This record has the same effect and power as did Pharoah Sanders' when he journeyed to Essaouria, Morocco to play with Maalem Mahmoud Ghania and the Gnawas on the Laswell-produced Trance of the Seven Colors (Axiom, 1994). But it is also the beginning of a journey that will shortly take Jane Bunnett, Larry Cramer and a handful of faithful on a journey deep into the music of Cuba as she and Cramer let it wash over them and create a new lexicon in jazz. For them, this is both a leap of faith and an expression of the joy of discovery. This is what makes the music so flawlessthe fact that there is nothing contrived about it. It is a collision of cultures where Jane Bunnett remains front and center, the proverbial Isaac to Cuba's Abraham!
Chamalongo is both ritual and joyful. It traces a spiritual journey beginning in the Santo Suarez area of Havana and gradually proceeding deeper into uncharted territory. It has the inimitable Merceditas as guiding spirit and also featured El Gato and El Goyo, Cuban folkloric singers who lead, with praise, the spiritual and musical expedition into the heart of Cuba. Hilario Duran sparkles on "Yanbu," Frank Emilio boggles the mind on "Descarga a la Hindemith," and Merceditas Valdes wakes up the spirit world joyously in "Ivolvidable," "Amor Por Ti," and "Coco," while the spirit of "Chamalongo" hovers throughout... Jane Bunnett sets sax and flute ablaze as she runs down the ritual like the expert and honorary Cuban that she is, holding her own among Tata Guines, Emilio and the battery of musicians. It is as if music like Latin worship is second nature to Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer now.
Deeply immersed in their Cuban expedition, Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer pull it all together in a classic session that mirrors the success of the Miles Davis/Gil Evans collaboration. In the album Ritmo+Soul (EMI Canada, 2000) the folkloric and jazz lexicons come together in a sunburst of music. The intensity of the record is set from the first track, "Santo Suarez..." 'a cantar a Elegua/a Bailar pa changa,' as the lyric states in praise of the presiding spirit. Jane Bunnett's saxophone and flute appear to be molded extensions of her body. The bata drums speak to as if inseparable from the woodwinds and piano... Jane Bunnett is molten and spreads like mercury over the music gathering it and taking it to a higher level, especially on "Joyful Noise," and "3 Voices One Spirit." Larry Cramer shines once again, proving that less is more and that he too is a force to be reckoned with. While Dean Bowman and El Gato provide soul stirring, worshipful, swinging and joyful vocalastics as Dafnis Prieto (drums) and Roberto Occhipinti (bass) anchor the musical expedition as it flies across the rich Afro-Cuban musical landscape.
The Jane Bunnett/Larry Cramer musical expedition dances its way south on the island to the city Santiago... 'The babalawo' places the tray in front of him and taps rhythmically... 'Orun-mila' is invoked... again, and some other 'Orisha' have been placated, for... The spirits are once again dancing in the flesh!
On Alma de Santiago (Connector, 2000), Bunnett's saxophone and flute melds with, at times, the Santiago Jazz Saxophon Quartet, a group that translates mambo and Afro-jazz to the lexicon of the saxophone as it does on "Funky Mambo," and "Almendra" a 38-piece percussion ensemble, La Conga de los Hoyos de Santiago de Cuba, that teams up with Jane Bunnett and the Santiago Jazz Saxophon Quartet to render Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee" into a rousing bebop conga ensemble piece that would warm the cockles of Bird's heart! Also playing a starring role in this chapter of the sacred journey is Eduardo 'Tiburon' Morales, a Cuban folklore vocalist who brings his Cuban-Villon-esque troubadour music to the Santiago project, also by Los Jubilados do Santiago de Cuba, another folkloric group that takes the record to the next level of bolero, conga and mambo. To the best of my knowledge, no record of this kind exists as yet.
From Santiago to the Glen Gould studios in Toronto could be a long haul if the spirits are displeased. Not in this instance, however... Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer have found the happy medium. Spirituals and Dedications (Justin Time, 2002) marks a shift to the northern Godhead... the Gospel is preachedas Mingus would saywith Holy Rollin' fervor! The project is brought to perfection with the spiritual intertwining and the energy of Stanley Cowell (piano), Dewey Redman (tenor sax), Dean Bowman (vocals and the revelation of the record andof coursethe magical flute and saxophone of Jane Bunnett. It is a travesty of justice that this record is allowed to die in the musical desert of Canada, which seems to deny its artists their true artistry. Once again, Bunnett pays tribute to her old friend Don Pullenthis time with a stirring rendition of her own composition, "Don's Light." Stanley Cowell contributes "Illusion Suite" and "Cal Massey" his own tribute to the late musical associate of Archie Shepp, who also wrote the wonderful track, "Steam" and worked with Shepp on his historic gig, Attica Blues (Impulse, 1972). Bowman excels on "Illusion Suite," "I'm Gonna Tell God," "Shadrack," Clifford Jordan's "Powerful Paul Robeson" and the traditional "Sometimes I feel Like A Motherless Child." But the crowning moment is the (first) vocal version of Mingus' "Ecclusiastics"both for Jane Bunnett's bass flute and Bowman's baritone voice!
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..."