Toronto-based soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett has built a solid career that for more than a decade has been focused on exploring traditional jazz and folk music from Cuba, touring with her Spirits of Havana band and also working to bring or send instruments to needy young Cuban players.
Red Dragonfly is both an extension of and a departure from her Cuban projects, and it's also her most ambitious and intriguing work to date. Primarily it consists of jazz recreations of folk tunes from around the world, many of which are songs that have been part of her psyche since childhood. They are performed by a Bunnett quintet plus Canada's splendid Penderecki String Quartet, which adds a lush and empathetic cushion to all of the material.
The works come from Brazil, Japan, Cuba, South America, Canada, South Africa, Native America, and American Appalachia. Bunnett borrows husband/trumpeter Larry Cramer and Cuban pianist/arranger David Virelles from her Spirits band and rounds out the core ensemble with drummer Mark McLean and bassist Kieran Overs.
There are no disappointments in either the approach Bunnett took or the sound that the band delivers on this project, released in the U.S. on Narada and in Canada on EMI-Blue Note. The clear favorites for these ears include the Don Thompson-arranged Japanese title track and "Black is the Color, which gets a splendid arrangement from Virelles, who stretches the tune with a beautiful, introspective solo. Also very nice are South African composer Enoch Sontonga's lively "Nkosi Sikelel'I Africa and the Japanese folk song "Moon Over Ruined Castle, but my absolute favorite is the disc's lone new work. Bunnett's own "Heaven's Gate has a warm, playful mood that showcases her talented, strong ensemble.
Track Listing: 1. Odira-E (7:24) 2. Red Dragonfly (aka Tombo) (5:46) 3. Heaven's Gate (5:59) 4. Black is the Color (4:47) 5. Witchi Tia To (5:42) 6. Maria La O (4:23) 7. She's Like a Swallow (7:04) 8. Rabo de Nube (4:32) 9. Divule Oni (4:31) 10. Nkosi Sikelel'i Africa (6:59) 11. Moon Over Ruined Castle (5:37) 12. Un Canadien Errant (4:27).
Personnel: Jane Bunnett, soprano sax; Larry Cramer, trumpet & flugelhorn; Mark McLean, drums; Kieran Overs, acoustic bass; David Virelles, piano; Penderecki String Quartet - Christine Vlajk, viola; Jerze Kaplanek, 1st violin; Jeremy Bell, 2nd violin; Simon Fryer, cello.