By Hrayr Attarian
Jane Bunnett and Maqueque
On Firm Ground/Tierra Firme
Jane Bunnett – Soprano sax, flute
Mary Paz – Percussion, voice
Dánae Olano – Piano, voice
Yissy Garcia – Drums
Tailín Marrero – Acoustic bass, electric bass, vocals
Joanna Majoko – Voice
Nikki D. Brown – Sacred steel guitar, voice
Daymé Arocena – Voice
Melvis Santa – Voice
For the majority of her career, Canadian soprano saxophonist and flutist Jane Bunnett has been North America’s premier proponent of Cuban culture. She has immersed herself in the island’s music and exhibited a deep passion for it. After decades of leading the ensemble Spirits of Havana, made up primarily of sidemen, Bunnett put together Maqueque, an all-female band of jazz musicians and composers hailing from Havana, Cuba.
The group’s captivating On Firm Ground/Tierra Firme, its third release, introduces two new collaborating artists. One is Zimbabwean singer Joanna Majoko, whose emotive vocals soar over sparse clapping on the enchanting “The Occurance (To Amelie).” Pianist Dánae Olano, who penned the piece, embellishes the main theme with resonant tones and suave elegance. The rest of the instrumental refrains weave a dense and mellifluous tapestry around Bunnett’s serpentine flute.
The second guest is American sacred steel guitar master and vocalist Nikki D. Brown. Her graceful spontaneity and superb technique add a hefty dose of soul to the multilayered title track. Elsewhere, Brown’s performance on the wistful “Broken Heart” exudes melancholy and is achingly beautiful.
In addition to these two first-time appearances, past group member, vocalist Daymé Arocena, contributes the intimate “Mystery of Jane’s House.” Bunnett’s acerbic saxophone and Arocena’s expressive articulation and warm voice create a cinematic ambience. Percussionist Mary Paz and drummer Yissy Garcia, with their angular beats, provide a delightfully percolating backdrop to Arocena’s agile voice and Bunnett’s shimmering soprano.
On Garcia’s lilting composition, “Habana De Noche,” bassist Tailín Marrero solos with lithe lines and deep lyricism. Within a nocturnesque ambience, Bunnett blows meandering and elegiac phrases. A bluesy call and answer conclude the tune on a haunting note.
More than an array of infectious rhythms and effervescent melodies, the album fuses fiery jazz with ethereal folkloric sound. Maqueque, therefore, is an apt appellation for this collective as it translates to the spiritual energy of a young woman. Like all of Maqueque’s past releases, On Firm Ground/Tierra Firme simultaneously stimulates and mesmerizes.