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What is it about Afro-Cuban music that makes it the very embodiment of joy? Is it the dance of the exuberant polyrhythms as they weave in and out of one another? Is it the lilting melodies that remain non-perforated and unadulterated by the dominant beats?

Just ask Canadian saxophonist and flautist Jane Bunnett, whose love-at-first-sight affair with the genre has rendered some beautiful, multi-dimensional, multi-cultural music. Music that smacks you in the head on its way down to your moneymaker.

Living in Toronto, Bunnett makes frequent trips to Cuba and fronts her all-Cuban band, Maqueque. And though the band is traditional and rhythmically appropriate, Bunnett frequently takes her crayons outside the box (Ornette Coleman's a big influence) to color what's played, adding to the thrill and that afore mentioned joy.

City Newspaper had a few questions for Bunnett who just got off a west coast tour. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.

City: What first drew you to Afro-Cuban jazz?

Jane Bunnett: Many things drew me to this music. l was an up and coming jazz artist. At the time l was very drawn towards modern jazz — Pharoah Sanders, Ornette Coleman John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Yusef Lateef. When l went to Cuba for the first time in 1982, l had been playing a little in a Latin band. At that time there were no Cubans in Toronto. The band was made up of other Spanish-speaking musicians from Colombia, Chile, Argentina, and so on.

l had a bit of an idea, but when l heard the Afro-Cuban thing — wow. The 18-piece Son Montuno Big Band; it blew my mind. I went into the town the next day and bought records and met musicians. I heard so many different styles of Cuban music in one week; it was earth-breaking and such a discovery. That first trip was to Santiago de Cuba, the oriented province. Three weeks later we headed to Havana armed with many names of musicians we should meet and hear. Many of them were legends and no longer on this planet. We were so lucky. It was pivotal.

Tell me about some of your influences.

They are Don Pullen, Dewey Redman, Ornette Coleman, Clifford Jordan, Steve Lacy, Stanley Cowell, many musicians that l have performed with ... but really my influences are endless.

Why the switch from classical piano?

Because l developed tendonitis and l realized l was never going to be a professional pianist.

The majority of your band is Cuban. Could you achieve the level of authenticity you have if they were not?

No. That is why this group, Maqueque, kicks ass. They are all Cuban ... and very creative musicians to boot.

What are some collaborations you have done, that you are particularly proud of?

All of them. I have done 20 recordings, five have received JUNOs, two have received Grammy Nominations, two have received Jazz Journalist Awards. The first one, "Spirits of Havana," was among the All Music Guide's Top 300 recordings of all time.

When composing, what determines whether flute or sax is used?

Not sure ... l guess the character of the composition.

You also play a Trompeta China. What is it?

A trumpet used in China for celebrations and funerals. It was taken to Cuba by the Chinese's workers and adapted into the comparsa — Cuban Carnival music — as it cuts through all of the drums

What are some elements other than Afro-Cuban that color your sound?

Everything: classical music, jazz, soul music, you name it. If it enhances the piece l will use it.

Jane Bunnett & Maqueque will perform on Monday, June 22, 6:15 p.m. and 10 p.m., at Max of Eastman Place, 25 Gibbs Street. The group will also perform the day before, Sunday, June 21, 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., at The Rochester Club, 120 East Avenue. Tickets for all shows are $20, or you can use your Club Pass. janebunnett.com.

In This Guide...

    Jazz Festival Guide 2015

    City Newspaper's guide to Rochester's biggest music festival. For more reviews, blogs, photos, and the latest news, check our website every day of the festival.

    Festival Information

    Tickets, Venues, Parking and Additional Information

    Friday, June 19 - Schedule

    Friday, June 19 3:45 p.m.: Buckman Heights Elementary School Jazz Street Stage (FREE)

    Friday, June 19 - Musician Bios

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    Saturday, June 20 - Schedule

    Saturday, June 20 3:45 p.m.: Gates-Chili High School Jazz Band Jazz Street Stage (FREE)

    Saturday, June 20 - Musician Bios

    Saturday, June 20 - Musician Bios 78 RPM Big Band A 16-piece band based out of Dansville, 78 RPM brings big band music all through Western New York.

    Raul Midon

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    Sunday, June 21 - Schedule

    Sunday, June 21 3:45 p.m.: MCC Jazz Band Jazz Street Stage (FREE)

    Sunday, June 21 - Musician Bios

    Sunday, June 21 - Musician Bios Benny Green Solo See listing for Saturday, June 20.

    Herb Alpert

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    Monday, June 22 - Schedule

    Monday, June 22 - Musician Bios 12:00 p.m.: Jazz Starts at the Library with Mike Kaupa Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE)

    Monday, June 22 - Musician Bios

    Monday, June 22 - Musician Bios Blue Highway With more than 20 years together and 11 albums to show for it, Blue Highway is at the top of the bluegrass heap.

    Tuesday, June 23 - Schedule

    Tuesday, June 23 12:00 p.m.: Jazz Starts at the Library with Danny Ziemann Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE)

    Tuesday, June 23 - Musician Bios

    Tuesday, June 23 - Musician Bios Aaron Diehl Aaron Diehl turned more than a few heads with his gorgeous keyboard work when he played last year's XRIJF with Cecile Mclorin Salvant.

    Wednesday, June 24 - Schedule

    Wednesday, June 24 12:00 p.m.: Jazz Starts at the Library with Mel Henderson Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE)

    Wednesday, June 24 - Musician Bios

    Wednesday, June 24 - Musician Bios Aaron Diehl Solo See listing for Tuesday, June 23.

    Fred Hersch

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    Thursday, June 25 - Schedule

    Thursday, June 25 12:00 p.m.: Jazz Starts at the Library with Doug Stone Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE)

    Thursday, June 25 - Musician Bios

    Thursday, June 25 - Musician Bios Ali Jackson Trio The son of bassist Ali Jackson Sr., drummer Ali Jackson had strong encouragement at an early age from stars like Max Roach, Milt Hinton, and Aretha Franklin.

    Sharon Jones

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    Friday, June 26 - Schedule

    Friday, June 26 12:00 p.m.: Jazz Starts at the Library with Mike Melito Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE)

    Friday, June 26 - Musician Bios

    Friday, June 26 - Musician Bios Arstidir Iceland's Arstidir has spent the last six years touring in more than 30 countries.

    Ingrid Jensen

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    Saturday, June 27 - Schedule

    Saturday, June 27 3:00 p.m.: Bill Tiberio Band East Ave. & Chestnut St. Stage (FREE)

    Saturday, June 27 - Musician Bios

    Saturday, June 27 - Musician Bios Alex Pangman Regarded as Canada's "sweetheart of swing," Alex Pangman has proven herself a talented and learned student of the classic jazz singers.

    Steep Canyon Rangers

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