Canadian saxophonist/flautist Jane Bunnett's latest installment in her long and amply requited love affair with Cuban music directs our attention to changüi, a precursor to son from the eastern part of the island that dates back to the late eighteenth century. Two changüi ensembles, from Santiago and Guantánamo (the latter featuring the incredible singing of José A. Moreaux Jardines on "Vamos Para Guaso Compay ), are featured on several tracks. The complex history of the music makes for interesting liner notes: isolated from the centrifugal economic and cultural forces that emanated from Havana, changüi also developed in the shadow of the US military presence at Guantánamo, and hence incorporated various American musical forms.
Bunnett's intention is not, however, to subject the changüi musicians to the clinical gaze of the documentary producer; she and her remarkable group went to eastern Cuba to engage in genuine collaboration. For listeners, this means it's not always possible to distinguish what is changüi and what has been brought by Bunnett and her troupe, but the little-known musical form seems to involve the trés (guitar), spirited singing, and propulsive and complex percussion.
In addition to her core "Spirits of Havana group (Cramer, Virelles, Overs and Ruiz Castro), Bunnett brings an almost hilariously heterogeneous cast of characters: veritable grey eminences Dewey Redman and Howard Johnson (who served as a US serviceman at the now-infamous base at Guantánamo in the early '60s); idiosyncratic guitarist Kevin Breit; and New Orleans singer Johnny Sansone. The diversity of this gathering calls to mind many of the experiments of Bill Laswell. Whereas some of Laswell's groups, audacious as they are, seem less than the sum of their parts, Bunnett's genuinely coheres.
This coherence is heard as Sansone's zydeco-inflected vocal on "Give Me One Dollar is chanted back to him in Spanish, for example, or during Johnson's athletic tuba break on "You Have Changed My Life. Perhaps the finest such moment is "New Orleans Under Water, a sort of stately bolero that doubles as a Louisiana blues and manages to evoke a few centuries of history around the greater Gulf of Mexico: pianist Virelles' contribution is Cuban elegance, while the electric guitar (credited in the liner notes to Sansone, but played, I suspect, by Breit) brings us back to the Mississippi River basin. Bunnett herself impresses more as impresario than as improviser, but her gifts in this regard merit a mention. I find I like her more on flute than on soprano sax, and especially on "You Have Changed My Life and "New Orleans Under Water.
Jane Bunnett: flutes, soprano sax; Larry Cramer: trumpet; David Virelles: piano; Kieran Overs:
acoustic bass; Jalidan Ruiz Castro: congas; Johnny Sansone: accordian, harmonica, lead vocal;
Kevin Breit: guitars; Howard Johnson: tuba; Dewey Redman: tenor sax; Ethan Ardelli: drums;
Carlos Tomas: trumpet; Paisan Mallet: trumpet; Tiburon Morales: vocals; Denis Keldie: organ;
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