Online since August 2002

Bunnett captures essence of Cuba

From the Winter 2002 issue.

Cuban Odyssey
Cuban Odyssey
By Jane Bunnett

Blue Note Records: 2002

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

An awful lot of the Latin jazz knocking around out there these days sounds (to this listener's ears) slick and over-produced, pasteurized and homogenized, plastic, devoid of life. And that's why Jane Bunnett's "Cuban Odyssey" is such a delightful surprise. A set of Cuban sounds that bubbles and brims with with an organic life force.

Jane Bunnett — soprano sax and flute — has carved out a career working with Cuban music, making numerous sojourns to the island these last twenty years; but her latest trip included her first foray outside of Havana, as she sought out sounds of the island nation's countryside.

The songs on the CD fall into three categories: things reedist Jane and her trumpeter husband Larry Cramer recorded in Toronto, with Cuban musicians; songs recorded in Havana, with the local guys; and recordings from her journey into the Cuban countryside.

The Toronto songs are the jazziest sounds, and display Jane B.'s soprano sound to full advantage. On "Arrival," with just Jane and two percussionists, her tone is sweet and round, somewhat Coltrane-like. Jane's reed weaves in and out of the Cuban grooves. This sound, with these drummers (Francisco Mela and Vladimir Paisan), could carry an entire CD, easily.

The Havana songs start out with the marvelously joyous "Quitate el Chaqeton" (take off your jacket), that includes a score of percussionists (at least) and some loose party-time vocals imbued with the spirit of old Havana.

And then there's the countryside stuff: the "Suite Matanzas" (Swinging in the Solar) is twelve minutes of pure joy, a set of traditional pieces recorded with the family-based ensemble, Los Muneqitos de Matanzas. The song was recorded in the village solar — the central common space that the families share, where laundry in washed, gossip exchanged — and it takes my preconception of plastic Latin music and turns it on its head. This is smooth, loose, happy noise, and as musically organic as it gets. The highlight for this listener.

Of special interest — and a nice change of pace with a very different in sound and tone — are the songs recorded with Grupo Vocal Decendann, a ten-voice choir composed of the descendants of Haitian slaves and emigres, singing in Patois, the language of their ancestors, with a sound that is beautifully solemn and European, in contrast to the ebullient New World percussion-laden songs on the rest of the CD.

"Cuban Odyssey" is a fascinating and complex Cuban stew, reminiscent of The Chieftains' "Santiago" (a Spanish countryside sojourn) CD of a few years back. A must have CD for fans of Latin jazz; an ear-opener for those of us who haven't delved too deeply into the territory of Latin sounds.

Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.

CD Review Archive | Music Home Page | Turbula Home Page