(137) David French, Downbeat -- July 2008

In 2006, multi-instrumentalist Bennie Maupin breezed back to jazz prominence with Penumbra, a charming, spare-but-sprightly album that landed on many Top 10 lists. Maupin, former Headhunter and Miles Davis electric-era sideman, had reemerged as a leader with a distinctive, less-is-more compositional style and a wise-elder assuredness and authority.

Maupin extends this mood on his new album, playing bass clarinet, tenor and alto saxophone, and alto flute backed by the trio of Polish musicians he has toured with in recent years. Two tracks also feature understated wordless improvisation by Hania Chowaniec-Rybka, a Polish folk singer who specializes in Tatra Highlander music, a source of inspiration for this record. The original wellspring for this project of spirited chamber jazz, however, is almost certainly John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, hints of which shine through on "Ours Again" and "The Jewel In The Lotus."

While the band stretches out on some of the tunes, the highlights are the numbers built around simple, rhythmic forms that echo back to Maupin's days of brain-bubbling funk and fire, but deliver instead a Buddhist-like sense of calm, clarity and exploration. Among these are the open-ended opening track "Within Reach," "Prophet's Motifs" and "Escondido," a breathy, minimalist bossa through which Maupin's bass clarinet glides like a graceful and unhurried sea creature. -by David French

David French
July 2008