Jane Bunnett and the Sprits of Havana flooded the Sean O’Sullivan Theatre with two heady sets of Cuban music that confirmed the arrival of spring in the first, then (with a generous portion of red-hot licks), then jumped a full season ahead with summer that sizzled after the break.
Featuring tracks from her current CD and DVD (Cuban Odyssey—EMI Music Canada/Blue Note Records), Bunnett and her quintet of collaborators—after settling into the vagaries of the acoustics—served up chart after chart of inspiring and invigorating songs, steeped in the soul and rhythms of Key West’s southern soulmate.
Bunnett’s soprano-sax skills are always a pleasure, whether oozing out the melody with Getz-like reed wash or soaring up to and beyond the theoretical range in tantalizing solo excursions. Her thoughtful, heart-felt rendering of “Black Tears,” was the most emotionally satisfying song of the night. On flute, she brings artistry and pizzazz but not the same range of tone (particularly from the quieter, more liquid colourings lurking within the silver pipe) which she draws from the single-reed instrument.
The lead lines are shared with husband and musical partner Larry Cramer. His opening flugelhorn contributions improved as time went on; his trumpet provided edgy heat when let loose, but it was its muted stylings in “Arrival” that will remain in memory for a long time to come.
Gluing all of this together was the steady, always tasteful acoustic bass lines provided by Kieran Overs and the spectacularly able contributions of pianist Hilario Durán. Durán was a constant marvel, peppering the keyboard (inside and out) with cascades of chords, instrumental scat and sound-bites from the masters (the snippet from a J.S. Bach Toccata was a wonderful link to the dusty origin of all Western music—including jazz). His solos drew cheers from the large crowd, proving once again what a fertile country Canada is for jazz-piano masters.
The conga punctuation and lead vocals were a consistent delight from Alberto Alberto, whose broad smile and musical instincts made him a pleasure to both watch and hear. He was ably assisted by new-Canadian (Chendy Leon—if my ears caught his name correctly), who used his kit effectively (the “foot block” was a marvel of unerring punch) and subtlety (often favouring brushes or the rims). With a kitchen as well-stocked as this, little wonder the temperature rose through the night.
Given the overall talent and varied fare, it was tough to pick out a favourite number, but the homage to Santiago that seamlessly moved from a sultry bolero through a vibrant funk before exploding into the partying spirit of carnival (like their Dixieland colleagues a few months back, cross-reference below), was a state-of-the-art performance that won’t be surpassed anytime soon. JWR