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

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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This is what makes her so unique. That, pulling down all vanity, she is able to subvert the self in favor of the music--to risk her life for every note!
"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 fields—a 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, Pablo Neruda

"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 end—literally... 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 wrote—poetry 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 sung—from 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 awe—not 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 her—spiritual ancestors so to speak—Jane 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 music—to 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 capture—only to set free—like 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 one—not even her idol, Pharaoh Sanders—can produce from a reed. You would imagine cross-referencing embouchure—from flute to sax and back again!

Her avowedly 'late start' is simply a matter of chronology. She was born with 'it'—that innate artistry—nascitur non fit—that 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 frontier—something 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 that—when 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 she—osmotin—is 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!


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