(137) James Hale, Signal to Noise -- Summer 2008

Thirty-five years ago, Bennie Maupin seemed to be the natural heir to Eric Dolphy's fallen crown. His work with Miles Davis, Lee Morgan and Herbie Hancock revealed a musician with a highly personal sound--particularly on bass clarinet--and the ability to work comfortably inside and out. Recorded in 1974, The Jewel In The Lotus could have been an important step into a successful recording career as a leader...

Interestingly, Maupin now says he never felt that the original performance of "The Jewel In The Lotus"was fully realized. He revisits the piece on Early Reflections adding a piquant new introduction for pianist Michal Tokaj, shifting the piece into a swing tempo and unfurling Coltranesque excursion on soprano as affecting as anything he's ever recorded. Maupin sounds revitalized at age 67, and some credit is due to the sympathetic trio of Polish musicians accompanying him. Vocalist Hania Chowaniec-Rybka appears on two pieces evoking the Tatra mountains near Krakow--one thinks of Jan Garbarek's work with Sami vocalist Mari Boine on Visible World. Following the expressive high point of "The Jewel In The Lotus" Maupin downshifts to the meditative group improvisation "Black Ice" and Tokaj's "Tears," a lovely ballad for flute. The energy rises again on "Prophet's Motifs," where his bass clarinet playing serves as a reminder of his mastery of the dark horn, and then it's back to the highlands for "Spirits of the Tatras": there are mysteries in these mountains, given a soulful expression in the opening improvisation, and Tokaj adds a gorgeous piano solo to cap things off. -by James Hale

James Hale
Signal to Noise
Summer 2008