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.