Bennie Maupin Ensemble: Penumbra

Bennie Maupin is a master of improvisational music and of the woodwind instruments. He has worked with some of the most creative musicians and most innovative ensembles of all time.

After working with jazz greats like Lee Morgan and Horace Silver, Bennie played bass clarinet on Miles Davis’ groundbreaking Bitches Brew, providing a dark, unique texture that added to the music’s overall vibe. He has long been associated with Davis alumnus Herbie Hancock, playing with Hancock in both his fascinating Mwandishi Sextet and his funky Headhunters bands. Yet Bennie Maupin remained unknown to the public at large. He has remained busy as a composer and teacher, and has assembled a new group, The Bennie Maupin Ensemble. Joining Bennie are bassist Darek Oles, drummer Michael Stephans, and percussionist Daryl Munyngo Jackson.

With no piano (except Maupin’s piano work on the final track, “Equal Justice”) to fill in valuable space, it is left to Maupin and Oles to comfortably support and challenge each other, while the drums and percussion provide subtle shading and texture.

Everything from Maupin’s considerable time playing jazz is here, from the Mwandishi-inspired angular ostinato patterns of “Neophilia 2006,” the modal approach of “Walter Bishop Jr.” to the free improvisation of “Level Three” and the solo tenor sax work on “Blinkers.” The title track might have come from a classic mid-60s Yesef Latif album, and Latif has proven a longstanding, positive influence on Maupin’s work.

Maupin demonstrates his mastery of woodwind instruments here, playing bass clarinet, tenor and soprano saxophones, alto flute, and a bit of piano. His sound on each instrument is sure, deep, and resonating and it’s great to hear that Maupin’s playing has in no way been diminished by advancing age. “Message to Prez” features some fantastic bass clarinet work, beginning with a breathy whisper and advancing to a bouncy, calypso inspired tune that cannot help to bring to mind yet another tenor saxophonist who has shaped Maupin’s musical personality, Sonny Rollins.

The ensemble’s intimate sound is captured well by producer Maupin, executive producer Jeff Gauthier, and mastering by Rich Been. Kudos as well to the Crypto Gramophone label, which has put together a beautiful CD package for this release, one that accords Maupin the respect that his musical talent deserves.

Bennie Maupin’s music is touched with a truly organic feeling, unfolding like a natural process, as inevitable as tulips blooming or the sun rising. His take on free improvisation is both gentle and playful and will not sound jarring to many listeners who generally don’t enjoy free jazz.

Read about Bennie Maupin/Early Reflections

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