Jane Bunnett - Cuban Odyssey - EMI - Canada/Blue Note 72435

Jane Bunnett's Cuban Odyssey actually began in 1982, when she and her husband, trumpeter Larry Cramer, first visited the island. Enchanted by the music and the people who made it, Jane and Larry have made countless return trips over the ensuing two decades, forming friendships with Cuban musicians, learning from them, performing and recording with them.

But their trip to Cuba in early 2000 was special, for two reasons. "It was the first time we left Havana," Jane explains, "outside of having been in Santiago de Cuba, and went into the interior of the country. And so, we had to start up all new musical friendships. We had been working in Havana for a long time and we know a lot of musicians there. But going to Matanzas and Cienfuegos and Camagüey was a very difference experience, because we didn't have that 'safety belt.' So I felt a bit more vulnerable this time, but also excited by the challenge."

Even more than that, this time Jane and Larry were accompanied by a crew from the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), and the result of its efforts was the acclaimed documentary that premiered at the 2000 Montreal World Film Festival, Spirits of Havana, a fascinating video chronicle of that journey - that odyssey - through Cuba. This CD presents complete performances of the music heard on the soundtrack of that wonderful film, along with some additional, related tracks.

Recorded in Toronto, Arrival, a Jane Bunnett original, is rendered by just soprano saxophone and drums. "I wanted to start the record out," she notes, "with something that represents where I'm at, musically, right now, something sort of dug-in and free-blowing, over Cuban rhythms." This short piece seems to overflow with excitement and anticipation of the journey to come. It also seems like the kind of music that John Coltrane might have made if, in the absence of the counterproductive US embargo, he had been able to experience Cuban culture directly.

The journey begins, appropriately, in Havana, amidst an all-star aggregation of rumberos, for a spirited performance of an old Cuban standard, Quitate el Chaquetón (Take Off Your Jacket), written many years ago by legendary trumpeter Felíx Chappotín. "It seemed very appropriate for the musicians we were working with," Jane observes. "They are all colorful characters. And the idea of taking your jacket off and dancing illustrates the whole philosophy of how Cuba operates. They are always ready for a party, and that's what we had when we made this recording. About forty people were invited to participate in the session, and eighty showed up!" In addition to Jane on flute, the key contributors include Thommy Rojas, an eighteen-year old trumpeter from the Amadeo Roldan Conservatory; pianist Guillermo Rubalcaba, father of the internationally known pianist, Gonzalo; master percussionists Changuito on timbales and Tata Güines on congas; and solo singer "El Nene," who is the lead vocalist with El Clasicos del Son.

Although Jane's dear friend, Merceditas Valdés, departed this world before the film was made, her spirit seems to guide the entire project. And so, it was fitting to include on this disc A la Rumba, recorded in Havana with Merceditas in 1997, but unreleased until now. "There were two great singers in Cuba," Jane declares, "Merceditas Valdés and Celia Cruz. After the revolution, Celia left and Merceditas stayed. It makes me sad, sometimes, because if Merceditas had also left, there is no question that she would have had the same kind of career that Celia Cruz has had. To me, she was like a Billie Holiday or a Sarah Vaughan. There are only a few singers who can touch the soul with the kind of depth that she had. And she straddled two worlds - she was a popular singer, but she was also a great folkloric singer." This piece embodies the essence of the Afro-Cuban folkloric music that Merceditas truly was born to sing.

Moving to the port city of Matanzas, Jane and Larry perform a set of traditional pieces - here titled Suite Matanzas - with the renowned Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, formed in 1952. "When you walk into a collective like this," she remarks, "that's been going for so many years, you definitely feel like the odd man out. But we really wanted to do something with them, because we felt that they should be documented and presented to a wider audience. That was an exciting performance for us because, after rehearsing for a couple of days or so, we played in the 'Solar' - the common space that the families share, where laundry is hung out and gossip is exchanged. All the doors open up into this square. As I was playing, I felt so elated, totally carried away by the collective energy generated by all of these musicians - and by the audience." That audience, by the way, includes adults as well as many children, some of whom one day will be members of this family-based ensemble.

Another Toronto recording, Pensando en Jane (Thinking of Jane), spotlights the talents of two brilliant young Cuban musicians. Vladimir Paisan, one of the youngest members of the conga band from Santiago, Los Hoyos, is heard here on both bata drums and the double-reed wind instrument, corneta china. The pianist and composer of this piece is eighteen year-old prodigy David Virelles, whom Jane and Larry discovered at the Esteban Salas Conservatory when he was just fifteen. "David has been influenced by everyone from Bud Powell to Herbie Hancock, and beyond," Jane notes. "Even at his young age, it's already clear that he is going to be an important voice in this music.

"The call that introduces the piece," she continues, "is the call that starts the whole comparsa, the beginning of the conga. It calls people out into the street. They hear that and they go, 'Oh, man, the comparsa's starting. We better get out there!'" David's writing is both subtle and sophisticated, as he injects the typically joyful conga with an element of mystery, a somewhat darker layer that, as Jane points out, is not out of place in a carnival music created under conditions of slavery.

Stopping next in Cienfuegos, Jane and Larry connect with Los Naranjos, a pioneering son band founded there in 1926. The current edition, joined by their two Canadian guests, carries on the tradition with a concert treatment of the first number the original group ever played, the humorous son-montuno, El Diablo, Tun Tun (The Devil, Knock Knock): "'Yesterday I spoke with a man with a gold tooth and I'm thinking of getting married. ... 'Be careful, sister, because he's the devil and he can take you away.'" It is evident that Los Naranjos is a close-knit band with worked out parts, and every player knows what he or she is supposed to be doing at all times. Still, Larry and Jane are able to carve out their own space within this tight - but by no means confining - musical architecture.

Five hundred kilometers from Havana, Camagüey is, in some ways, even more distant culturally, as illustrated by the following three pieces featuring the ten-voice choir, Grupo Vocal Desandann. Composed of descendants of Haitian slaves and émigrés, Desandann, founded in 1994, sings - neither in Spanish nor Yoruban, but in Patois - the songs of their ancestors. "I felt this was an important group to present," Jane muses, "because they are so contrary to what people think of as 'Cuban music.' When I heard them for the first time, I could feel a vibration in my body from their music. And so, I wanted to do something that really added to the music and injected something meaningful into what they were doing, because it's already so very meaningful."

There is a definite kinship between Grupo Vocal Desandann and African-American gospel choirs: observe the rich harmonies, deep vocal timbres, forward-moving rhythmic impetus, and, most of all, the inherent solemnity of these performances, a quality that can be traced back to a shared history. Certainly a song that begins, poignantly, "I know a place in the woods, and if you go there, you will stay," as does Nan Fon Bwaa, is every bit as informed by the bitter experience of slavery as the well-known "Negro spirituals" of the United States. "I really wanted to blend in with them," Jane says of her work on this track. "I didn't want to interfere because what they did was so beautiful." Alabans, performed by Desandann alone, has a similarly lilting, African-derived 6/8 rhythm. Jane and Larry join the singers for Prizon (not heard in the film), a calypso-like song that is unusual in Cuban music.

It's back to the rumba party in Havana's Egrem Studio, where we see how Cuban musicians build fully realized performances out of the sparsest musical material, in this case, a simple question, "¿Qué tú quieres?" ("What do you want?"), and an obvious reply, Ron con Ron (Rum with Rum). "That's Cuba, man," Jane laughs. "In Cuba, you often have these get-togethers with musicians that maybe you haven't played with in a long time - they are called descargas. This is a classic descarga, and there wasn't a better place to do it than Havana, where we have so many musical friends." Conceived on the spot by the dynamic and influential congureo, Tata Güines, this authentic Cuban jam includes call-and-response montuno sections featuring a battery of solo voices, burning instrumental contributions by Guillermo Rubalcaba, Jane, and Larry, and a jazz-inspired scat vocal by the multi-talented Bobby Carcasses.

The closing track, Movin' On, reprises and develops Jane's Arrival theme, adding instruments, revoicing and extending the harmonies. In that way it's both a glance back and a look ahead, symbolizing how the experiences we gain on our journeys, great and small, alter who we were and what we had, while, at the same time, our essence remains intact.

"I think we've covered a lot of musical ground in Cuba over the years," Jane reflects, looking back on her twenty-year Cuban odyssey. "From originally working with Merceditas and Grupo Yoruba Andabo and the other folkloric groups, like Clave y Guaguancó, I was drawn to the bare bones, open quality of the folkloric music, because it allows you to bring so much to it. Then I was fortunate to work with José Maria Vitier and the late Frank Emilio, the Cuban piano masters, in more of a chamber music project, but still injected with jazz. And of course, playing the son music of Los Naranjos and playing with Desandann, which was a whole other thing, you have to integrate yourself within another musical context that is still Cuban, to fit in and express yourself musically and honestly within that idiom. So we wanted to tie a thread through all of our experiences with the musics of Cuba. And I think with this project it really happened."

Count Basie
Chairman of the Board

Jane Bunnett
Cuban Odyssey

Alf Clausen Jazz Orchestra
Swing Can Really Hang You Up the Most

Carl Fontana
The Fifties

Coleman Hawkins
The Best of Coleman Hawkins

Philly Joe Jones Dameronia
Look, Stop and Listen
Featuring Johnny Griffin

Wes Montgomery

Claudio Roditi
Free Wheelin': The Music of Lee Morgan

Horace Silver
Paris Blues

Gary Smulyan
High Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie Laine

Various Artists
The Prestige Legacy, Volume 1: The High Priests

Steve Weist
Out of the New

Complete CD Liner Notes Credits
ArtistCD TitleLabel
Eric AlexanderFull RangeCriss Cross Jazz
Helio AlvesPortrait In Black and WhiteReservoir Music
Anush ApoyanA Dedication to Horace SilverBlack & Blue
Robert Bachner & Helmar HillEin feiner ZugATS
Thomas Barber's Janus BlocSnow RoadD Clef
Carl Bartlett, Jr.Hopeful
Count BasieChairman of the BoardRoulette Jazz
Roni Ben-HurSignatureReservoir Music
Walter BlandingThe Olive TreeCriss Cross Jazz
Don BradenAfter DarkCriss Cross Jazz
Jane BunnettCuban OdysseyEMI Music Canada
Sharel CassityRelentlessJazz Legacy Productions
Al ClausenSwing Can Really Hang You Up the MostSunny NoDak
Steve DavisVibe Up!Criss Cross Jazz
Dena DeRoseIntroducing Dena DeRoseSharp Nine
Dena DeRoseUnitedHigh Note
Orrin EvansGrown Folk BiznessCriss Cross Jazz
John Fedchock New York Big BandNo NonsenseReservoir Music
John Fedchock New York Big BandUp & RunningReservoir Music
Carl FontanaThe FiftiesUptown
Sayuri GotoFlashbackFever Pitch
Sayuri GotoPrayerFever Pitch
Jimmy GreeneIntroducing Jimmy GreeneCriss Cross Jazz
Coleman HawkinsThe Best of Coleman Hawkins [Prestige Profiles: Coleman Hawkins]Prestige
David HazeltineA World for HerCriss Cross Jazz
Conrad HerwigHeart of DarknessCriss Cross Jazz
Jane JarvisSagmo's SongFaith
Jane Jarvis & Benny PowellTwo of a KindFaith
Ingrid JensenHere on EarthEnja
Philly Joe Jones DameroniaLook, Stop and Listen Featuring Johnny GriffinUptown
David KikoskiAlmost TwilightCriss Cross Jazz
Yuko KimoraA Beautiful Friendship
Yuko KimoraNexus
Yuko KimuraBridges
Ryan KisorThe DreamCriss Cross Jazz
Marilyn LernerBirds Are ReturningJazz Focus
Achilles LiarmakopolousTrombone Atrivedo Opening Day
Gene LudwigThe Groove ORGANizationBlues Leaf
Joe MagnarelliMr. MagsCriss Cross Jazz
Virgina MayhewNini GreenChiaroscuro
Virginia MayhewNo WallsFoxhaven
Virginia MayhewPhantomsRenma
Virginia MayhewSandan ShuffleRenma
Virginia MayhewA Simple Thank YouRenma
Virginia Mayhew Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 YearsRenma
Adriana MikiSashimikiApria
Wes MontgomeryDangerousMilestone
Dave PanichiBlues for McCoySpirit Song
Roberta PiketSoloThirteenth Note
Roberta PiketOne for MarianThirteenth Note
Roberta PiketWest Coast TrioThirteenth Note
Valery PonomarevBeyond the ObviousReservoir Music
Valery PonomarevThe MessengerReservoir Music
Valery PonomarevOur Father Who Art BlakeyZoho
Benny PowellCoast 2 CoastFaith
Benny PowellThe Gift of LoveFaith
Melvin RhyneKojoCriss Cross Jazz
Claudio RoditiDouble StandardsReservoir Music
Claudio RoditiFree Wheelin'Reservoir Music
Adonis RoseThe UnityCriss Cross Jazz
Jim RotundiReverenceCriss Cross Jazz
Harvie S & Sheryl BaileyPlucky StrumWhaling City Sound
Horace SilverParis BluesPablo
Gary SmulyanHigh Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie LaineReservoir Music
Doug TalleyNight and DaySerpentine
Uptown FiveUptown SwingHarlem
Various Artists: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins & John ColtraneThe Prestige Legacy, Volume 1: The High PriestsPrestige
Ceder Walton, Ron Carter & Billy Higgins: Sweet Basil TrioSt. ThomasEvidence Music
Walt WeiskopfAnytownCriss Cross Jazz
Steve WeistOut of the NewArabesque
Deborah WeiszBreaking Up, Breaking OutVah Wa
Rich WilleyGone with the PiggiesConsolidated Artists Productions

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