It's impossible to say for sure, but it looks to me like Jane Bunnett, that remarkable Canadian flutist and soprano saxophone player, got there first. It couldn't be more hip at the moment to go down Havana way and record with some of the best musicians one can find. (See the recent recorded work of jazz trumpet player Roy Hargrove, for instance, and Ry Cooder.)
But because she was Canadian, Bunnett was lucky enough to have free travel access to Cuba. She was the first to have a working group with the musicians 90 miles offshore. Everyone in "La Norte" knows about the greatness of Cuban percussionists. (We have Dizzy Gillespie to thank for that.) And we had previously heard, with Irakere and its saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, how powerful Cuban saxophonists can be. But Bunnett and the great jazz player Charlie Haden discovered, separately, that along with every other kind of Cuban musical salsa that jazz had come to taste, it seems that some of the great living jazz piano players were there, too.
Gonzalo Rubalcaba was the pianist who boggled Haden's mind. But even earlier, Bunnett's group Spirits of Havana brought to many North American ears one of the most remarkable of all Cuban players, the great veteran piano player Hilario Duran. The last time Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana played at the Calumet, those who heard them couldn't stop talking about Duran.
Well, Buffalo will have two more chances to feast on some of the hottest music to come our way in a while. Bunnett, Duran and company will perform at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Calumet Arts Cafe, 52 W. Chippewa St.
-- Jeff Simon