Jane Bunnett and Maqueque: Jane Bunnett and Maqueque

Canadian soprano saxophonist and flutist Jane Bunnett continues to let her love affair with Afro-Latin music guide her. Here she fronts an all-female sextet and showcases some of the brightest young instrumental and vocal talent Cuba has to offer.

Often on the disc, Bunnett’s soprano sax or flute passages weave alongside the vocal harmonies of several ensemble members before spiraling across haunting Yoruban chants, batá polyrhythms and modern jazz arrangements. DaymĂ© Arceno’s husky alto functions as the prominent voice. She dazzles on Bunnett’s “Maqueque,” crooning wordless phrases animated by coos and growls while Bunnett’s flute melody soars atop Danae Olano’s piano and the rhythm section’s percolating groove. A string quartet wraps the composition (and others) admirably, adding another layer of mystique.

Bunnett penned the bulk of the tunes, which range in temperament from the feisty “Tormenta” to the triumphant closer “Song for Haiti,” featuring Arceno’s spoken-word performance. Arceno also contributes a couple of solid originals; particularly moving is “Canto a Babba,” on which Bunnett’s soprano glides over a cinematic landscape. Still, the disc’s most surprising and rewarding moment occurs in the makeover of Bill Withers’ soul classic “Ain’t No Sunshine.” There, Bunnett articulates the song’s melody on soprano sax with Yusa’s tres guitar asides and, with Arceno, powerful lead vocals.