Bennie Maupin is best known for his atmospheric bass clarinet playing on Miles Davisí classic Bitches Brew album, as well as other Miles Davis recordings, such as Big Fun, Jack Johnson, and On the Corner. He was a founding member of Herbie Hancockís seminal band The Headhunters, as well as a performer and composer in Hancockís influential Mwandishi band.
Born in 1940, Maupin started playing clarinet, later adding saxophone, flute and, most notably, the bass clarinet to his formidable arsenal of woodwind instruments. Upon moving to New York in 1962, he freelanced with groups led by Marion Brown, Pharoah Saunders, and Chick Corea, and played regularly with Roy Haynes and Horace Silver. He also recorded with McCoy Tyner, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Jack DeJohnette, Andrew Hill, Eddie Henderson, and Woody Shaw, to name only a few.
Maupinís own discography as a leader includes a well-received recording for ECM Records, The Jewel in The Lotus (1974), Slow Traffic to the Right (1976), Moonscapes both on Mercury Records (1978), and Driving While Black on Intuition, (1998). The instrumentation of Maupinís current group The Bennie Maupin Ensemble, harkens back to the tradition of great saxophone-bass-drum trios, such as the group led by Sonny Rollins with Wilbur Ware and Elvin Jones. While echoes of the great John Coltrane can be heard in Maupinís work, one can also discern the influences of Yusef Lateef, Sonny Rollins, and Eric Dolphy, as well as Maupinís contemporaries like Wayne Shorter and the late Joe Henderson. Maupinís approach to his music is intentional and profound, yet alive in the interpretation of the moment. He maintains active performing and teaching careers in Europe, and the U.S. Bennie Maupin currently resides in the Los Angeles area.
The Bennie Maupin Ensemble came about as a result of Bennieís continuing musical association and friendship with drummer/percussionist Michael Stephans. Internationally renowned bassist Darek Oles was a natural addition because of his open approach to interpretation and improvisation, as well as his masterful bass playing. In early 2003 world class percussionist Munyungo Jackson joined the group, and the Bennie Maupin Ensemble was born.
Penumbra (2006) is a profound musical statement by an important jazz artist who is at the pinnacle of his artistic powers. Penumbra is dedicated to the memory of Lyle ďSpudĒ Murphy.
Early Reflections (2008) is a follow-up to the excellent Penumbra from 2006. Maupin is joined by a core quartet of Polish musicians with whom he has developed a rewarding affinity through frequent European sojourns. Based on a collectivist spirit, the music rejects standard melody-solos-melody structures for a brushstroke flow of color, textures, dialogue and modal improvisation. Short, sketch-like compositions give way to more expansive floats of lyricism.
Maupinís circular tenor patterns on ďWithin ReachĒ wander languidly through Michal Tokajís gentle chordal landscapes, bassist Michal Baranski and drummer Lukasz Zyta twitching alongside. Much of the music whispers, and whether Maupin is playing tenor or soprano saxophone, bass clarinet or alto flute, his playing is defined by patience. Even when things heat up, as on ďThe Jewel and the Lotus,Ē Maupinís best-known composition, arranged here as a swirling, Coltrane-like waltz over an infectious vamp, Maupinís soprano retains a wailing poise.