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Jane Bunnett & Maqueque set new music ablaze at Chris' Jazz Cafe

Lauren Deutsch

Multi-instrumentalist Jane Bunnett has led and mentored the all-female Latin-jazz ensemble Maqueque for over a decade. She had noticed a wealth of talented young female musicians in Cuba who, in a male-dominated scene, weren’t being offered any chances. Motivated to break the cycle, she created the collective to provide the young graduates of The Cuban Conservatory the opportunities they deserved.

Today they are an award-winning, globetrotting ensemble whose membership has evolved to include musicians like the vocalist Joanna Majoko, from Zimbabwe. (The band has also featured musicians from Lebanon, the Dominican Republic, Spain and Latin America in addition to the core group of Cubans.) The band’s name — which translates to “the fiery energy of a young girl” in Lucumi, a liturgical language of Santería — provides some clever inspiration for a new album, Playing With Fire. Ahead of its release on March 10, the group stokes the flames with a single, “Human Race.”

The song finds Maqueque in signature form, with solos from Bunnett on soprano saxophone and a breakdown on bass and percussion. Special guest Donna Gratis, who previously performed with Prince, breaks out with a blistering electric guitar solo.

Another mark of Maqueque is the musicians singing in unison — a fortifying feature that seems to ground them and lift them up at the same time. The echoing voices declare their unity and sisterhood by repeating “Las hermanas.” One of the singers breaks out from the choir to remind us that “we’re stronger together.”

Ahead of Playing With Fire, Maqueque is preparing to embark on a tour that will bring them to Chris Jazz Cafe on Saturday night. The band will then move on to Keystone Korner in Baltimore (Sunday) and Birdland Jazz Club in New York (March 7 to 11). Here’s video of Maqueque lighting up the stage at Chris’ around this time last year.

Playing with Fire will be released on March 10; preorder here.

Ms. Blue, or "DJ CB," has been on a musical path her entire life - as a young child copying radio shows to tape cassette, and as a student of various musical instruments and dance genres. Her first foray in the industry was with WDCR at Delaware County Community College, where she was hired as a DJ for the student-run station and quickly became station manager, a position she held for two years. There she ushered in new technology and programs to embrace the early days of podcasting.