On the final track of Maqueque’s self-titled debut five years ago, Jane Bunnett spiked the punch with her longtime collaborator Hilario Durán and a few other heavyweights. For the band’s third album, Tierra Firme, the most prominent guest stars are Maqueque alumni Daymé Arocena and Melvis Santa on vocals, plus sacred steel guitarist Nicole “Nikki” D. Brown.
That proactive evolution is typical for Bunnett, who has always ensured that paying her dues becomes a long-term investment. Early in her career, she dismantled gender bigotry by holding her own with rugged male elders like Dewey Redman, Don Pullen, and Billy Hart. And after she fell in love with Cuban music on her initial trips to the island in the 1980s, she returned again and again, fundraising instruments for children and absorbing wide swaths from a panoply of genres. Her decision to form an all-female group of younger Cuban musicians has opened a creative portal for both the ever-changing members of Maqueque (which translates to “energy of a girl’s spirit”) and the leader herself.
New personnel make up half the sextet, and percussionist Mary Paz and Tailin Marrero on both electric and contra bass, alongside holdover drummer Yissy Garcia, provide the cantering polyrhythms that undergird the ensemble. Bunnett’s flute and soprano sax solos brim with rapid-fire lyricism, doubling down on the momentum and generating contrapuntal complexity. Pianist Dánae Olano has settled in as the band’s lieutenant, the other primary soloist and composer who ratifies Bunnett’s vision. And vocalist Joanna Majoko from Zimbabwe further fattens the harmony as she finds her place amid the high-powered guest alumni.
Tierra Firme beautifully showcases the extension—and enlivening—of the Afro-Cuban tradition. The musicians of Maqueque come and go, all the while ripening the interplay with fresh blood and declarations of interdependence.
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