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April 2003

Jane Bunnett
Cuban Odyssey
Blue Note Records

For more than 20 years, soprano saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett and her husband, trumpeter Larry Cramer, have made many trips to Cuba, steeping themselves in the local jazz and native-music scenes. In 2000, the couple went to Cuba accompanied by a crew from Canada's National Film Board, and the trip resulted in the documentary film Spirits of Havana. Cuban Odyssey is the soundtrack plus some related material.

The significance of the CD's nonsoundtrack music is that it means Bunnett and Cramer spread out from Havana and went into the hinterlands, which are rich with folkloric sounds well-deserving of documenting. Some of the coros (choruses) are unschooled and frustratingly ragged, but the vocal traditions they perpetuate are worth preserving, particularly the call-and-response patterns. Equally important is the skill with which Bunnett integrates her flute and soprano sax into the Cubans' music, giving us the best of the past and the contemporary. From that rich past there is pianist Guillermo Rubalcaba, father of the brilliant Gonzalo Rubalcaba. There is also a peek at the future with two 18-year-olds, trumpeter Thommy Rojas and the outstanding pianist/composer David Virelles.

Most tracks float on infectious montunos, abetted by rhythm sections boasting up to four congas, timbales, claves and bata drums. In the midst of all that is a free-ranging, occasionally atonal duologue between Bunnett and Virelles, "Pensando en Jane (Thinking of Jane)." Come to think of it, I wonder what Jane was thinking when she quoted one of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies during "El Diablo?"

Originally published in April 2003
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