Bennie Maupin: Early Reflections & The Jewel In The Lotus

Andrey Henkin BY

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Bennie Maupin
Early Reflections

Bennie Maupin
The Jewel In The Lotus

The reascendence of Bennie Maupin is a heartening story. After an almost 15-year period (1965-1979 in recorded terms) when the saxophonist was one of the most exciting players in jazz and graced a remarkably wide range of albums, Maupin's star dimmed as it has for so many others in jazz. After a bleak '80s decade and a slightly more productive '90s, Maupin has reemerged with the tripartite appeal of modern innovator, elder statesman and comeback kid. The timing could not have been better. With the royal treatment given to Miles' electric period—an era whose success was due in no small part to Maupin—he is now an exemplar of fusion's excitement, rather than a victim of its excesses and flippancy.

2006 saw the release of the wonderful Penumbra, a compelling statement for someone who had only four albums as a leader to his credit in the prior decades. Maupin seemed to distill his entire career on that album, an excellent calling card. He follows up that effort with Early Reflections, an album that adheres to much the same pattern as the first, Maupin once again crafting an album of vignettes, alternating brief sketches with more fully formed compositions. The group is different—a trio of Polish players which now includes a piano instead of percussion—but they are equally invested in Maupin's aesthetic. That is one of languorous movement, Maupin writing deliberate, organic compositions. Despite his layoff, the pieces demonstrate a veteran's savvy, with no rushing and supreme confidence. He appears on bass clarinet but also on display are tenor sax (his forgotten instrument for many), soprano sax and alto flute. On the record for two tunes is Polish vocalist Hania Chowaniec-Rybka, whose contributions are as subtle as the rest of disc. Maupin performed at the end of April as part of the Cryptogramophone Festival at Jazz Standard, playing a mix of pieces from both discs with the group from Penumbra. The club was filled to the rafters, audibly appreciative that Maupin's history is still being written.

"The Jewel in the Lotus" from the new album actually dates back to Maupin's titular debut as a leader for ECM in 1974, a date receiving overdue reissue. The album captures a particular period in Maupin's development; his first record would have been different if it were waxed during his mid '60s experimental period, later '60s hardbopping, turn-of-the-decade pre-fusion ruminations with Miles or '70s funkouts with Mwandishi or the Headhunters. Maupin enlists some of his Mwandishi cohorts for this album—keyboardist Herbie Hancock, bassist Buster Williams, drummer Billy Hart—effectively making this part of that circle of records that also includes Eddie Henderson's first discs. Though the instrumentation is fairly standard, with Charles Sullivan's trumpet matched against Maupin's reeds, the sound of the album is vaguely electronic and plenty amorphous, an atomization of Electric Miles. It must have been a shock back then and maybe needed to sit on the shelf for 30 years. It fits perfectly now with the modern state of jazz, just like its architect.

Tracks and Personnel

Early Reflections

Tracks: Within Reach; Escondido; Inside the Shadows; ATMA; Ours Again; The Jewel in the Lotus; Black Ice; Tears; Not Later Than Now; Early Reflections; Inner Sky; Prophet's Motifs; Spirits of the Tatras.

Personnel: Bennie Maupin: bass clarinet; tenor and soprano saxophones, alto flute; Michal Tokaj: piano; Michal Baranski: bass; Lukasz Zyta: drums, percussion; Hania Chowaniec-Rybka: voice (4, 13).

The Jewel In The Lotus

Tracks: Ensenada; Mappo; Excursion; Past + Present = Future; The Jewel in the Lotus; Winds of Change; Song for Tracie Dixon Summers; Past is Past.

Personnel: Bennie Maupin: reeds, voice, glockenspiel; Herbie Hancock: piano, electric piano; Buster Williams: bass; Frederick Waits: drums and marimba (left channel); Billy Hart: drums (right channel); Bill Summers: percussion, water-filled garbage can; Charles Sullivan: trumpet (2, 3).

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