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Cuban Connection

[whitespace] Jane Bunnett
Rich McGinnis

Table Talk: The sounds of Cuba have inspired Canadian Jane Bunnett.

Jane Bunnett weds jazz to Afro-Cuban rhythms

By Andrew Gilbert

DON'T TELL JANE BUNNETT the Cold War is over. The soprano saxophonist and flutist has been knocking heads with the U.S. State Department over her insistence on collaborating with Cuban musicians. When her Spirit of Havana--98 tour came to the Bay Area last weekend to kick off the historic Dialogue With Cuba conference at UC-Berkeley, half of her band was unable to make the gig. By the time Bunnett brings her ensemble to the Kuumbwa Jazz Center, she's been told that the other Cuban players will have been allowed to enter the country. "It's ruining my life," a stressed-looking Bunnett said before a recent press conference. "There have been times when the State Department's cooperative, but then at crucial moments, these things happen."

Bunnett first got interested in jazz when she caught Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Charles Mingus while visiting San Francisco in 1975. She studied with soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy in Paris and worked extensively with another Afro-Latin explorer, pianist Don Pullen, with whom she made a trip to Cuba in 1990. In the last decade, Bunnett and her husband, trumpeter Larry Cramer, have traveled to Cuba more than 20 times. Though Bunnett has recorded a number of critically acclaimed straight-ahead jazz albums, she has garnered the most praise for her Afro-Cuban sessions. The Toronto-based saxophonist won a Juno (Canada's version of a Grammy) for her dazzling 1992 album, Spirit of Havana, and in 1996, she recorded a historically sweeping session for Blue Note, Jane Bunnett and the Cuban Piano Masters, that incorporates everything from the soaring Yoruban vocals of the late Merceditas Valdes to the pyrotechnic keyboard work of Gonzalo Rubalcaba.

Recorded in Havana, her new Blue Note album, Chamalongo, also draws on the vast universe of Cuban music, from Yoruban chants and folkloric music to Afro-Cuban jazz and rumba. Bunnett recruited a number of her Chamalongo collaborators for the Spirit of Havana--98 tour, including former Cubanismo congero Roberto Vizcaino, percussionist Paul Pineda, vocalist Pancho Quinto and pianist Hilario Duran. With her soul-deep connection to Cuba's music and musicians, Bunnett won't let State Department shenanigans deter her from her path. When someone phoned bomb threats to a Chicago theater where Bunnett was appearing with a group of Cuban musicians in 1996, she just arranged a backup venue.

Jane Bunnett performs Monday at 7:30pm at Kuumbwa, 320-2 Cedar St., SC. Tickets are $17/$15. (427-2227)

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From the March 26-April 1, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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