Blue Note Records
Embracing Voices isn’t the first album by Canadian saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett—nicknamed “Havana Jane” because of her deep passion for Cuban jazz and her fierce dedication to its preservation and presentation—to include vocalists. Nor would it be fair to call it her best work with voices, since that would diminish such achievements as 1994’s The Water Is Wide, featuring exceptional guest turns by Jeanne Lee and Sheila Jordan, or the towering presence of Ernesto Gatell on Ritmo + Soul in 2000, or the stunning contributions made to 2003’s Cuban Odyssey by Grupo Vocal Desandann.
The 10-member Desandann collective—five men and five women, based in Cuba but of Haitian descent—play an even larger role in Embracing Voices. Indeed, the luminous blend of their voices can be heard on all 12 tracks, a breathtaking spectrum that extends from the explosive joy of Bunnett’s own “Sway” (co-written with fellow Canadian Kellylee Evans, who takes vocal lead with august authority) to the gently rousing Haitian anthem “Wongolo” (a musical promise that the long-beleaguered nation will rise again), the Creole and French protest cry “Chen nan Ren” and composer and multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson’s “Egberto,” a bracingly beautiful homage to composer Egberto Gismonti that flows like a crystalline jungle stream, culminating with a delightfully honorific rendition of Sheila Jordan’s “The Only One” (again featuring the perspicacious Evans, who also contributed the Jordan-exalting lyric).
Typical of Bunnett, she refuses to make herself the album’s centerpiece, opting instead to meld with the assemblage while pushing others, including Evans, Cuban rap star Telmary (who ignites the fire at the heart of “Chen nan Ren”) and estimable Canadian jazz and blues singer Molly Johnson (who contributes a gorgeously shaded, nine-minute ramble through Jacques Brel and Rod McKuen’s “If You Go Away”) into the limelight.
The other giant of the piece is Thompson, working his inimitable brand of elegant magic as he alternates among vibes, bass, keyboards and marimba. In the liner notes, Bunnett refers to him as a Canadian “national treasure.” Not true. Thompson is an international treasure, and it’s time the world fully recognized him as such.