Sunday, April 13, 2008
Bennie Maupin is back... with a vengeance. Maupin was one of my favourite reed players in the '60s and early '70s – and remains at the top of my list of bass clarinetists. I discovered his work when he was a member of trumpeter Lee Morgan's band. Morgan's recording Live At The Lighthouse is an overlooked landmark recording of the time. Of course, Maupin was also a cornerstone of Miles Davis' band, making mammoth contributions to Bitches Brew and now properly documented on On The Corner and other studio work Davis did between '69 and '72. Next, Maupin went on to be a key player in Herbie Hancock's great Mwandishi band and stayed on for Sextant and Head Hunters. Oddly, Maupin was never much of a leader. He made one great record for ECM – The Jewel In The Lotus, just reissued on CD – a couple of so-so things for Mercury and then he disappeared from the recording scene for 20 years.
Like Andrew Hill – in whose company he also performed – Maupin was one of those guys you always hoped would come back while he still had some chops. In the past couple of years, he has. And he hasn't lost a step. If anything, he's more focused than ever, and he sounds great. His new recording, Early Reflections, on Cryptogramophone is exceptional. Maupin has been – among other things – studying composition in Poland, and has grown fascinated by the mountainous Tatra region near Krakow. He has also hooked up with a Polish trio – including a terrific pianist named Michal Tokaj – and an intriguing singer: Hania Chowaniec-Rybka. She has this intense, wordless style that puts me in mind of Mari Boine for some reason. She and Maupin team up for a couple of Tatra-influenced pieces, the second of which had me reaching for Visible World – the ECM recording Jan Garbarek made with Boine in 1996. Maupin revisits "The Jewel In The Lotus" on Early Reflections, re-casting it in three-quarter time and building in a jaw-dropping soprano solo that may be one of the best things I've heard him play. All things considered, that makes Early Reflections a must-have if you've been a Maupin fan, too.
My review of both the reissue of The Jewel In The Lotus and Early Reflections will run in the next issue of Signal To Noise – my debut in that fine publication.