Maqueque is a co-operative featuring not only women players from Cuba, it now includes brilliant vocalist Joanna Majoko (from Zimbabwe) and has had musicians from the Dominican Republic, Latin America, Spain and Lebanon. The band has won a Juno Award, a Grammy nomination and regularly tours Europe, Latin America, and North America. They have played all the major clubs and festivals including Newport, Monterey, Saratoga, and does a yearly weekly stint at the legendary Birdland in New York City.
‘Playing With Fire’ is a contemporary Latin jazz album full of energy, vibrancy and the first album featuring Jane Bunnett that I have really connected with. ‘Human Race’ sets the tome for the album with excellent playing, great vocals, a terrific pulsing beat from Mary Paz, and glorious guitar playing from Donna Grantis. The piano and flute mix is just what I want to hear from an up-tempo Latin jazz number: a fantastic opening number. This is followed by a fascinating reworking of ‘Tempus Fugit’ written by pianist Bud Powell. Jane Bunnett plays fast and loose on the flute around Dánae Olano’s piano with both being supported by the vocals of Joanna Majoko. This is a short track full of ideas that come across very well.
‘Sierra’ is in the contemporary jazz style with Jane switching to soprano sax. At time it feels like the musicians are playing against each other but the vocal lines keep everything tied together. Rock edged guitar lines from Donna Grantis add another layer of texture to the overall sound before everything calms down as Olano leads on the melody and takes us to the tune’s end. Violinist Daniela Olano wrote ‘Daniela’s Theme’, which has her sister, and founding Maqueque member, Dánae Olano leading from the piano while Daniela plays the melody over the top. The percussion keeps the pulse of the tune moving along while the vocals add the contrast to the instrumentation. This is a well-written tune and it is good to hear the violin sound being used to such effect.
‘A God Unknown’ has a spiritual feel about it with the wordless vocals dominating the sound. The piano and flute create the breaks with the violin just about cutting through in support. The final minute and a half of this track becomes much more other worldly in feel that gives the number a visceral aspect that, on reflection, I guess the tune was leading up to. ‘Turquoise/Turquesa’ has a terrific drummed opening over which the melody is played out. Nice trades between sax and scatting vocals all carried along with an uplifting rhythm into a long fade out.
‘Bolero a un Sueño’ is a nicely presented Bolero with lilting vocals, loping percussion, and relaxed notes from flute and piano. All this takes place before the energy levels rise slightly and give the tune a fuller more purposeful sound led by the more percussive playing of pianist Dánae Olano. ‘Jump Monk’, written by Thelonious Monk, has the most joyous arrangement with piano and sax taking the lead – but those vocals and that violin are not far behind. Some great rhythmic hand clapping to open the number with a good strong bass line in support and excellent drumming from Yissy García throughout – possibly the standout track for me.
The penultimate track is ‘Tomorrow’ is sung in English with flute and guitar backing and a driving beat. Good piano section with nice scatting alongside leading into a guitar solo. This is probably the most commercial sounding number on the album and it would be easy to see this being released as a single. The album’s title track closes out the album with its heavy propulsive rhythm which moves it away from the Latin jazz feel of earlier tracks – a definite three and a half minute rock influenced track I felt was out of place on Playing With Fire.
With the exception of the final track I enjoyed this album. It is full of energy and ideas, it is multi layered, at times complex but not overly so. The violin of Daniela Olano and vocals of Joanna Majoko stood out for me but that is not to take anything away from the other musicians on this album, as a collective their sound is impressive and it was good to hear an album so full of life.
Musicians: Jane Bunnett – soprano saxophone and flute; Yissy García – drums; Tailin Marrero – bass & vocals; Joanna Majoko – vocals; Dánae Olano – piano & vocals; Mary Paz – percussion & vocals; Daniela Olano – violin; Donna Grantis – electric guitar.
Tracklist: 1. Human Race. 2. Tempus Fugit. 3. Sierra. 4. Daniela’s Theme. 5. A God Unknown. 6. Turquoise/Turquesa. 7. Bolero a un Sueño. 8. Jump Monk. 9. Tomorrow. 10. Playing With Fire.