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The Bennie Maupin Ensemble: Penumbra

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You might think being a key member of some of the most influential fusion groups in history would place a guy in the music’s pantheon. Yet despite lending his distinctive bass clarinet, flute and saxophone work to such classic albums as Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, Big Fun and On the Corner and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, Bennie Maupin never became a household name-even in jazz households.

On this excellent album, Maupin demonstrates that, while having never achieved an exalted level of fame, he has nevertheless developed and refined a highly individualized voice. Maupin’s aesthetic is all-embracing. His Ensemble (Maupin, bass clarinet, flute, piano, tenor and soprano saxes; Darek Oles Oleszkiewicz, bass; Michael Stephans, drums; Daryl Munyungo Jackson, percussion) addresses such varied stylistic niches as free jazz, funk, Afrobeat and postbop with the same heightened degree of inspiration.

Maupin’s an exciting player, and his intricate improvisations typically generate excitement-not through hyperactivity but by an ingenious use of displaced rhythm. The band matches his measured virtuosity and intensity. There’s tons to like and virtually nothing to dislike on Penumbra. Intellectually and emotionally, this music is as nakedly honest and engaging as it gets.