Foundry 616, November 4
Cuba produces brilliant musicians at almost the same rate it does cigars, and it stands out among those countries – including as Turkey, Brazil, Ethiopia and South Africa – to enrich jazz as well as borrow from it. The Canadian soprano saxophonist/ flautist Jane Bunnett has enjoyed a long and fruitful fascination with Cuba’s music, and for Maqueque she has assembled five of the country’s outstanding young female players.
This made the project the perfect headliner and opening act for this year’s Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival, which consists of 17 performances across 12 days and four stages.
The most compelling aspect of Bunnett and her colleagues’ take on Afro-Cuban jazz was its sheer vibrancy. With the compositions memorised and no sheet music to distract, smiling interaction defined a concert that was clearly as much fun to play as to hear.
Bunnett’s saxophone solos were generally more compelling than those on flute. Unlike most soprano players her sound was neither sweet nor nasally, but rather sand-blasted and tinder-dry, with a piquancy that could border on the ferocious.
Something of that ferocity slipped into the grooves occasionally, too, notably from Yissy Garcia, who proved a potent and inventive drummer, if slightly too loud a proportion of the time. Pianist Danae Olano was unfortunately submerged in the mix in the first half, and seemed rather underdone on solo space given the striking quality of what emerged when she did feature. She also shared vocal duties with bassist Celia Jimenez, percussionist Magdelys Savigne and lead singer Dayme Arocena (who added further percussion).
The percussion dialogues were always effervescent, as was the four-part singing, even if it was compromised by some lapses in intonation. As good as the band sounded working up a head of steam it was often even better when backing off and leaving space to enjoy the individual sounds and interlocking parts, as on Jimenez’s La Flamenca Maria and a delightfully reimagined Ain’t No Sunshine.