Canadian mistress of the flute and saxophone, Jane Bunnett, continues her long love affair with Afro-Cuban music when she joins with Maqueque, an all-female Cuban sextet, in their self-titled September release for Justin Time Records. A glance at her discography makes clear her passion for the Cuban soundscape—titles like Cuban Odyssey, Spirits of Havana, and Jane Bunnett and the Cuban Piano Masters don’t even scratch the surface of that passion.
If there is something new and different here, it is the collaboration with the all-female ensemble. Bunnett describes the value of their partnership: “There’s a very happy energy about it.“She continues: “All of the women are very supportive of each other. I’ve seen a couple of all-women groups in Cuba that are geared toward tourists and can border on being pretty cheesy. What we’re doing is creative and collaborative and involves a lot of the Afro-Cuban elements that stem out of traditional folkloric music.”
The name Maqueque, Bunnett explains in the liner notes, is from an ancient Cuban dialect that means “the spirit of a young girl” and was the suggestion of the grandmother of the group’s dynamic vocalist Daymé Arocena. It is a name that “perfectly describes the musicians and our music,” she continues. If young girl connotes joyful exuberance and the celebration of life, they couldn’t have found a better name.
The album’s 10 tracks include five Bunnett originals, three pieces by Arocena, one, “Mamey Colorao,” from the pen of Cuban piano great Pedro “Peruchin” Justiz, and a take on the Bill Withers classic, “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.”
Among the album’s highlights are Bunnett’s “Maqueque,” which features some exciting piano solo work from Danae Olano, and her “Song for Haiti” that was originally written for a Haitian benefit album and adds a gaggle of guest musicians. Arocena’s “Guajira” is supposedly inspired by the self-sufficiency of Cuban farmers and has an impish quality, and her “De la Habana a Canada” has a haunting opening for Bunnett on the soprano sax before moving into cha cha territory. Arocena and bassist Yusa provide a soulful vocal on the Withers cover, after a magical sax opening.
Bunnett and Maqueque are a match made in Afro-Cuban heaven.
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