The veteran Detroit-born multi-reedman Bennie Maupin has been criminally under-recorded as a leader with just five previous albums under his own name in the last 35 years. But Maupin, whose sinewy bass clarinet solos helped define Miles Davis' landmark fusion album, "Bitches Brew," and who spent most of the '70s riding shotgun with Herbie Hancock, appears to have found a champion in Cryptogramophone, a boutique label based in Los Angeles.
"Early Reflections" (*** out of four stars, to be released on April 22) 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.
Maupin's circular tenor patterns on "Within Reach" wander languidly through Michal Tokaj's 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 "The Jewel and the Lotus," Maupin's best-known composition, arranged here as a swirling, Coltrane-like waltz over an infectious vamp, Maupin's soprano retains a wailing poise.