Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

May/June 2009: Jimmy Cobb

Jane Bunnett: Red Dragonfly

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Jane Bunnett is one of the most notable Canadian musicians to emerge in the last ten years. She is an exceptional soprano saxophonist and flautist who has made huge inroads around the world with her Latin-inspired music. Her forays into Cuban music with a series of critically acclaimed recordings with Cuban musicians resulted in her receiving a much-deserved Juno Award and two Grammy nominations. Along the way, Bunnett has kept her connection to the mainstream jazz world. She has recorded and performed with bassist Charlie Haden, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, singer Sheila Jordan, pianist Don Pullen, tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, and pianist Paul Bley.

Perhaps her most personal statement is the 2004 release Red Dragonfly [EMI #78055], a melodic take on folk songs from around the world that Bunnett and her husband and producer, Larry Cramer, have loved for years. There are compositions from Canada, the United States, Cuba, Japan, Brazil, and South Africa.

Bunnett and her band—Cramer on trumpet and flugelhorn, Kieran Overs on acoustic bass, Mark McLean on drums, and twenty-one-year-old Cuban pianist David Virelles—team up with the Penderecki String Quartet. The gorgeous, lush arrangements are contributed by Don Thompson, one of the most highly regarded jazz players in Canada, by former Cuban and piano virtuoso Hilario Duran, and by David Virelles.

Virelles’s arrangement of the South African national anthem (from 1897), “Nkosi Sikelel’i Africa,” is profound and moving. Bunnett’s playing is heartbreaking, and the Penderecki Quartet’s mournful strings set the tone of a hymn. The traditional Appalachian folk song “Black Is the Colour” is a piece Bunnett used to sing in her school choir and she would later hear Nina Simone’s recording. Bunnett’s expansive rendition is reminiscent of Coltrane’s blowing on “My Favourite Things.”

The finest selection is the poignant rendition of “Witchi Tia To,” a Navaho Peyote chant that native jazz musician Jim Pepper recorded in the 1960s. Bunnett’s soprano work on this song is tasteful and controlled, and Thompson’s arrangement is superb.

Throughout this CD there are marvelously deep pockets of lyricism. Bunnett and Cramer (he is often forgotten but plays a key role in the shaping of all of Bunnett’s projects) abundantly demonstrate their flexibility and creativity. The beauty and grace of Red Dragonfly is constant. There is not one bad moment.

Choice Cuts features a CD from Ross Porter’s The Essential Jazz Recordings (McClelland & Stewart, 2006).

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