I’ve never cared much for the music of Canadian winds player Jane Bunnett — her flowery flute lines and watery tone on soprano saxophone always seemed too light to me. For more than a decade she’s devoted much of her time to exploring the rhythmic intricacies of Afro-Cuban music, working with top-flight Cuban players like Los Munequitos de Matanzas, Guillermo Rubalcaba (father of the famous pianist Gonzalo), and Dafnis Prieto, but her contributions to the musical equation always struck me as tepid.
Her recent album, Radio Guantanamo: Guantanamo Blues Project Vol. 1 (Blue Note), isn’t flawless, but it’s the first of her Cuban records that’s held my interest. She collaborates with two excellent groups that play changui — a regional style from Guantanamo that’s distinguished by brisk, choppy dance rhythms played on hand percussion and guitar, along with chanted vocals. But rather than just mash up those lean Cuban grooves with some jazz improvisation, she adds some New Orleans roots music to the stew. (Which makes sense: the city was one of the original passageways for Cuban music into the U.S.) The disc could have been a monumental mess, but instead it’s a rather savvy and well-executed map of intersecting stylistic lines.
Bunnett and her Spirits of Havana band play two shows tomorrow night, November 9, on the second night of HotHouse’s Jazz en Clave Festival. She appears with a stripped-down group that includes her husband, trumpeter Larry Cramer, and four Cuban natives: percussionists Arturo Stable and Jorge Najarro, bassist Yunior Terry, and pianist Osmany Paredes.