Jane Bunnett & Spirits of Havana | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Jane Bunnett & Spirits of Havana




Over in the progressive wing of mainstream jazz, Canadian woodwind player Jane Bunnett has turned herself into a tough, enterprising soprano saxist and a sensitive flutist; her list of jazz credentials is topped by a long professional association with the late pianist Don Pullen. But in Cuban music she has found her metier--and her meters. With the large band she calls Spirits of Havana, Bunnett juggles the beat, using her flute to approximate the popular charanga rhythm and traipsing through danzons, rumbas, and descargas (or jams) of dizzying variety and complexity. On the blistering new Chamalongo (Blue Note), her third CD devoted entirely to Cuban music, Bunnett augments the Spirits with percussionists and vocalists from the Cuban Folkloric All-Stars to create both lulling nocturnal mysteries and polyrhythmic chain reactions. Her Chicago visit will feature only a quintet, which is incapable of re-creating that level of activity; luckily, it includes pianist Hilario Duran, a regular member of the larger Spirits ensemble. But while the success of Bunnett's Cuban connection stems largely from her collaboration with irreplaceable Cuban artists, she's chosen to meet their music head-on with her own. Since 1992, when she first recorded in this idiom, Bunnett has continued to immerse herself in Cuba's sonic currents; but she has maintained her own instrumental voice, never trying merely to "fit in." As a result, she brings new perspective to this old music: sounding neither fully Cuban nor norte–a, she respects the tradition without mimicking it. Bunnett highlights the Latin-laden reopening festivities for HotHouse in the club's new downtown digs; the weekend lineup also includes AACM stalwarts the New Horizons Ensemble and 8 Bold Souls, as well as preconcert presentations by poets and other word artists. The mixture of cutting-edge jazz, world music, and avant-garde performance that HotHouse sponsored in its previous incarnation has never really been replaced; given that the demise of the performance series at Unity Temple in Oak Park looks imminent, the club's resurrection comes just in the nick of time. Saturday, 10 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-326-9707 or 773-235-2334. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Rick McGinnis.

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