Jane Bunnett & Maqueque – Playing With Fire
Americana comes in different flavors & this is quite a trip. The group is a Grammy-nominated all-female Cuban band & their excursions with spicy progressive guitar cruises through what some older ears will recognize as South American-type music (Astrud Gilberto, Perez Prado, bossa-nova jazz tints) with a dash of Julie Driscoll type jazzy vocalizing. But despite the similarities, this band has a distinguished showcase & their performance is solid. They also sound simply exciting.
One of their secrets to appeal to a wide audience is that they pepper their music with Cuban spices yet keep some tunes in a rousing universal jazz gloss ala 60s. The guitar & drums are splashed with Chick Corea’s Return to Forever creativity & breathy Claudine Longet-type vocals. Yet, nothing sounds too retro – just mindful of it. “Human Race,” is an energetic piece that also pulls from memories of Santana/Malo & other Spanish-flavored groups that had a good run.
I’m impressed with the percussion that keeps the lively music even livelier. Music is a funny thing because here we’re talking about Afro-Cuban music stylings from a Toronto-based jazz artist Jane Bunnett who leads this crafty group of sweeping instrumentalists & singers. Some are graduates of the Cuban conservatory.
Celebrating the band’s Tenth Anniversary these 10 new tracks are all excellently recorded & captured with stirring individuality. Arrangements are tight yet there are times they play with amazing fluidity. No matter what element they add it always comes up with sparks. Playing With Fire (Drops March 10-True North Records/Linus Entertainment) features not only women from Cuba but the brilliant vocals of Zimbabwe’s Joanna Majoko & musicians from the Dominican Republic, Latin America, Spain & Lebanon. World music indeed.
They apply their skills in a manner that showcases them as a pioneering ensemble. Personally, I fell in love with this type of music decades ago when I was a young boy watching “I Love Lucy,” with its powerful Cuban-instrumental theme by the Desi Arnaz Orchestra. It was just electrifying – especially the percussion, expressive horns & flash of a harp. Impressive stuff.
More progressive is “A God Unknown,” which grinds the instrumental gears with precision as Brian Auger’s Trinity explored on the tunes of “Streetnoise” decades ago. On this one, the addition of a wild flute & the impressive vocal delivery of the ladies paints a vivid, yet haunting musical picture.
Musicians — Jane Bunnett (Soprano Saxophone/Flute), Yissy García (Drums), Tailin Marrero (Bass/Vocals), Joanna Majoko (Vocals), Dánae Olano (Piano/Vocals), Daniela Olano (violin/composer), Mary Paz (Congas/Vocals) & special guest electric guitarist Donna Grantis.
Highlights – “Human Race,” “Tempus Fugit,” “Daniela’s Theme,” “A God Unknown,” “Turquoise Turquesa” & the excellent finale — “Playing With Fire.”
Color image courtesy of the Jane Bunnett website. CD @ http://www.janebunnett.com/