(129) John Corbett, Downbeat -- August, 2006

**** Coming from the multi-instrumental camp of Yusef Lateef, Bennie Maupin is deeply involved in modulating instrumental color and texture, but he also likes to tell a story.  He shifts between horns (and occasionally piano) as a way of changing expressive modes.  There's a lot of quiet music here, but also lots of variety.  The alto flute of the title track is meditative and calm, where the equally somber soprano miniature that follows, "Mirror Image," is more incisive and penetrating.  Maupin's tenor on "Trope On A Rope" is more pensive, understatedly restless.

Maupin's acoustic band is perfectly suited to his storytelling.  Percussionist Daryl Munungo Jackson is a longtime partner, and he is the colorist's colorist, added little textures and sounds or using hand drums to help drummer Michael Stephans propel things, as on the more aggressive "The 12th Day." Compositions - all but one by Maupin - are simple, revolving around short themes, often stated by Maupin in tandem with bassist Darek "Oles" Oleszkiewicz. The latter has a big, woody sound, and he's a powerful foil for Maupn; his solo on the piano piece "Equal Justice" is unfettered and strong.

The meatiest part of Penumbra though, comes in the form of Maupin's bass clarinet, which continues to be his prime instrument. A tough ostinato underpins "Neophilia 2006," as the bass clarinet gradually emerges from the bass vamp to offer a solo equally expressive and reserved. The unaccompanied bass clarinet piece, "One For Eric Dolphy" periodically returns to gulping arpeggios that conjure its dedicatee but with an unforced tone that's Maupin's own. "Message To Prez" perhaps points back at the ultimate source of Maupin's relaxed, often floating melodicism. 

John Corbett
August, 2006