Support All About Jazz

All About Jazz needs your help and we have a deal. Pay $20 and we'll hide those six pesky Google ads that appear on every page, plus this box and the slideout box on the right for a full year! You'll also fund website expansion.


I want to help
453

The Bennie Maupin Ensemble: Penumbra

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count Views
The Bennie Maupin Ensemble: Penumbra Bennie Maupin, whose bass clarinet work helped define Miles Davis' classic Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1969), was an equally key contributor to Herbie Hancock's 1970s Mwandishi and Headhunters groups. In light of this, it's hard to believe that he has released only six albums as a leader during his lengthy career. One bona fide classic, The Jewel in the Lotus (ECM, 1974), sadly awaits issue on CD, and another disc comes very close: Driving While Black (Intuition, 1997).

But while both of these records had clear precedence in Mwandishi and electric Miles, Penumbra is an all-acoustic affair, featuring long-time associate Daryl Munyungo Jackson on percussion, drummer Michael Stephans and bassist Darek "Oles" Oleszkiewicz. Chordless groups aren't particularly unusual, but by focusing on bass clarinet and using two percussionists instead of the more conventional two horns/bass/drums lineup, this quartet occupies a darker, earthier space. The grooves range from the fiery swing of "Vapors," featuring Maupin on soprano, to the 6/8 funk of "Tapping Things," where Maupin's bass clarinet delivers the elliptical theme in unison with Oles, before opening up into a more interactive conversation. There's little here to jar the senses.

Still, this may be Maupin's freest session. "Walter Bishop Jr.," featuring Maupin on tenor saxophone, is the kind of modal music that Coltrane might have made if his vision had been less intense. Rather than creating sheets of sound, Maupin concerns himself with space, allowing every note to breathe. Every now and then a flurry of notes evidences his instrumental facility, but he's more concerned with a tranquil sense of the spiritual—close, at times, to Charles Lloyd's more meditative work.

Oles has only emerged on the Los Angeles scene in the past few years, and his debut as a leader, Like a Dream (Cryptogramophone, 2004), demonstrated an equal marriage of technique and spare economy. The bassist proves to be a remarkable listener here. On the free-ish but clearly form-based "Level Three" he manages, along with Stephans' astute brushwork, to anticipate Maupin's every move. Jackson is sometimes so subtle as to be almost invisible, meshing seamlessly with Stephans on the guarded ebullience of "Message to Prez," but more up front on "See the Positive" and "The 12th Day"—the two most uplifting tracks on Penumbra.

Maupin contributes rich alto flute to the African-tinged title track and blends European classicism with American concerns on the closing ballad, "Equal Justice," proving himself a capable pianist. But the bass clarinet is his main axe, and the solo "One for Eric Dolphy" is both an homage and statement of individual intent. Penumbra may surprise listeners expecting Maupin to carry on the electric vibe of The Jewel in the Lotus and Driving While Black, but in many ways the looser organic nature of this effort makes it his most personal and satisfying record to date.

Visit Bennie Maupin on the web.


Track Listing: Neophilia 2006; Walter Bishop, Jr.; Level Three; Blinkers; Penumbra; Mirror Image; Message To Prez; Tapping Things; Vapors; One For Eric Dolphy; See The Positive; Trop On A Rope; The 12th Day; Equal Justice.

Personnel: Bennie Maupin: bass clarinet, tenor and soprano saxophones, alto flute, piano; Darek "Oles" Oleszkiewicz: bass; Michael Stephans: drums; Daryl Munyungo Jackson: percussion.

Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Cryptogramophone | Style: Modern Jazz


Shop For Jazz

Multiple Reviews
CD/LP/Track Review
Profiles
Interviews
Read more articles
[no cover]
Slow Traffic To The...
Enja Records
2011
buy
Early Reflections
Early Reflections
Cryptogramophone
2008
buy
The Jewel in the Lotus
The Jewel in the Lotus
ECM Records
2007
buy
Penumbra
Penumbra
Cryptogramophone
2007
buy
Penumbra
Penumbra
Cryptogramophone
2006
buy
[no cover]
Driving While Black
Enja Records
1998
buy
Sonny Rollins Sonny Rollins
saxophone
Kenny Garrett Kenny Garrett
sax, alto
Freddie Hubbard Freddie Hubbard
trumpet
Wayne Shorter Wayne Shorter
saxophone
Eric Dolphy Eric Dolphy
reeds
Joshua Redman Joshua Redman
saxophone
Joe Henderson Joe Henderson
sax, tenor
Bobby Hutcherson Bobby Hutcherson
vibraphone
Charles Lloyd Charles Lloyd
saxophone

More Articles

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.