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Radio Guantánamo: Guantánamo Blues Project by Jane Bunnett

In her search for spiritual musical expression, which continues to this date, Jane Bunnett has established one of the more interesting jazz careers of her generation. A Canadian citizen, Bunnett had been exposed to some of the legendary jazz masters, like Charles Mingus and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, just as she was becoming exposed to the possibilities of jazz for infinite personal expression. But then, she became disillusioned. After the passing of Mingus, Kirk and others, Bunnett could not find the passion in the music that she heard from those musicians, and she and her partner Larry Cramer went searching, subconsciously. And serendipitously, during a vacation, they found the what they were looking for in Cuba. Returning again and again, Bunnett and Cramer learned a little more about Cuban music and sponsored visits to Canada and the United States for Cuban musicians, despite visa, transportation and political problems. One thing that Bunnett and Cramer found is that variations of Cuban music exist across the island. Some of their past recordings explored the music they heard in Havana or Santiago, as well as the relationship between Cuban music and the blues. On Jane Bunnett’s latest release which happens to be the first of two versions she and Cramer actually are revealing to the rest of the world the music that has been performed for centuries in the Cuban province of Guantánamo, which, yes, surrounds the controversial United States naval base there.

The latest of Bunnett’s Cuban discoveries, brought to the attention of American audiences, is Grupo Changüi de Guantánamo. That group, and others, are keeping alive the folkloric music of the area that. Like the mixture of sounds heard in New Orleans in some respects, Changüi reflects the blending of cultures influencing the city of Guantánamo. Built by people from all over the Caribbean by people in search of work, the music heard in Guantánamo reflects African, French, Spanish and English cultures that blended in the region as it was built. Despite its presence in the province since the 1700’s, Changüi wasn’t recorded until 1986. And now, with the release of Radio Guantánamo: Guantánamo Blues Project, Bunnett is bringing to the world’s attention her own discovery, which now has become ours.

Some of Bunnett’s regulars appear on the CD, including bassist Kieran Overs and Cramer, not to mention Dewey Redman, who appears here on one of his last recordings. Radio Guantánamo: Guantánamo Blues Project includes some surprises too, including tubaist Howard Johnson, who contributes greatly to the joyousness of some of the tracks, and adds a 4-minute solo to the incredibly energetic "Conga Blue," a carnaval-like song of impassioned dance that can be visualized just from its hearing. In fact, much of Radio Guantánamo: Guantánamo Blues Project consists of music that invokes visual images, mostly of the street dancing suggested by "Changüi Para Alfredo" or of the more refined, European-based son of "Guantánamo Blues (Part 1)." Guitarist Kevin Breit, as is his occasional wont, develops his own atmospheric envelope surrounding the mood of a song, as he does on "New Orleans under Water," his twang and reverberation setting up and continuing throughout the song as an expression of indescribable distress.

One of the themes of Radio Guantánamo: Guantánamo Blues Project is the similarities between Changüi and New Orleans-based street music, with strong hints of zydeco. Bunnett involved New Orleans accordionist and vocalist Johnny Sansone, who contributed two songs common to the environments of both Guantánamo and New Orleans, where seamen docked and were looking for a good time: "Give Me One Dollar" and "No Money, No Chica." Both songs are structured on call on response, Sansone making the call and either Grupo Changüi de Guantánamo or Grupo Changüi de Santiago providing the response. Once again, the visual aspect of the music continues, as one can imagine the group members asking for change as they entertain people on the streets. In the case of "Give Me One Dollar," the results can’t help but create smiles as Johnson roars on the tuba and as Grupo Changüi de Guantánamo ignore barriers to English pronunciation by singing with unrestrained glee.

Of course, Bunnett and Cramer, the forces who made possible the recording, and whose search led them to uncover the origins of another Cuban style, are ever present throughout Radio Guantánamo: Guantánamo Blues Project, as Bunnett, for example, establishes the feel for "Kiriba" on flute or as Cramer completes the ensemble on tracks like "You Have Changed My Life." But as ever, she and he, while participants humbly focus the recording on the little-known Cuban musicians, whose works so inspires them. Their Guantánamo recording sessions in 2003 and 2005 couldn’t be contained on a single hour-long CD. Fortunately, the second part of Radio Guantánamo: Guantánamo Blues Project will be continued with a second release in the future as Jane Bunnett unearths more folkloric music that so many broadcasters, governments and musicians have been unaware of or ignored for decades, if not centuries.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jane Bunnett
  • CD Title: Radio Guantánamo: Guantánamo Blues Project
  • Genre: Latin Jazz / Latin Funk
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Blue Note
  • Tracks: Changui Para Alfredo, Give Me One Dollar, Kiriba, Guantánamo Blues, Loma de Chivo, You Have Changed My Life, No Money No Chica, Conga Blue, New Orleans under Water, Yemayá, Vamos Para Guaso Compay
  • Musicians: Jane Bunnett (soprano saxophone, flutes) Spirits of Havana: Larry Cramer (trumpet), David Virelles (piano), Kieran Overs (bass), Jalidan Ruiz Castro (congas) Guest Artists: Johnny Sansone (accordion, harmonica, lead vocals); Kevin Breit (guitars); Howard Johnson (tuba); Dewey Redman (tenor saxophone); Ethan Ardelli (drums); Carlos Tomas, Paisan Mallet (trumpet); Denis Keldie (organ); Tiburon Morales (vocals); Grupo Changüi de Santiago & Grupo Changüi de Guantánamo
  • Rating: Five Stars
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