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Jane Bunnett: Red Dragonfly (AKA Tombo)

If you somehow avoided looking at the packaging, you could listen to Jane Bunnett’s Red Dragonfly (aka Tombo) without ever realizing that it draws its tunes from many countries ’round the world, including Cuba, Japan, South Africa and even Bunnett’s native Canada. The reason? With only two exceptions, Bunnett and her fellow musicians and arrangers treat all these tunes, regardless of their origins, in exactly the same way.

Most of the tracks here begin with ripe, nearly melodramatic intros from the Penderecki String Quartet (guesting with Bunnett’s band), which then recede into the background as Bunnett takes each melody at a moderate tempo on her soprano sax. Pianist David Virelles, with the support of drummer Mark McLean and bassist Kieran Overs, then pushes the tempo, providing an impetus and a platform for wide-ranging improvisations by Bunnett and Larry Cramer on the trumpet and flugelhorn. Then everything slows up again for a repeat of the melody en route to an atmospheric close. In isolation, each track generates some heat, but one after the other the sameness numbs you to their impact; you know what’s coming up all the time, even when you don’t know what the exact notes are going to be.

Unwisely, Bunnett stashed the two black sheep near the end of the album; “Nkosi Sikelel’i Africa,” arranged by Virelles, begins with a homophonic, hymnlike texture before taking on the defiant swagger of a ’60s civil rights anthem, while “Un Canadien Errant,” arranged by Bunnett and Virelles, begins in confusion and only becomes more chaotic over four and a half minutes. Otherwise, Red Dragonfly (aka Tombo) serves as unintended confirmation of the old Buckaroo Banzai saying: “No matter where you go, there you are.”

Originally Published