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Bennie Maupin - Slow Traffic to the Right CD (album) cover


Bennie Maupin

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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Easy Money
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Critics often write this record off as being Bennie Maupin's 'commercial album', there are a few 'mellow' groove oriented cuts on here, but this is far from typical late 70s fusion-lite, or 'fuzak'. Maupin had just finished long stints with Herbie Hancock's avant-electro fusion Sextet as well as his futuristic funk band The Headhunters when he released this album that combines The Sextets psychedelic electronic textures with The Headhunters sophisticated orchestrated grooves. It took Herbie's ex-sideman to create the perfect blend of Hancock's adventurous Crossings and his more tightly focused Manchild.

It Remains to be Seen kicks off the album with a steady funk groove layered with reverb heavy orchestrated horns and electronic atmospheres. The beat is unobtrusive and seems to pre-date 90s acid jazz and trip-hop. Bennie and pianist Patrice Rushen turn in high energy solos that lift the song far from commercial pabulum. This song is followed by Eternal Flame, a long unwinding melody backed by an abstract jazz beat. The harmonies and the song's long dramatic build-up recall some of Debussy and Ravel's Spanish tinged music. This song wouldn't sound out of place on an ECM release.

Side one closes out with Water Torture, a slightly funkier remake of a former abstract Sextet tune. Maupin also augments the original arrangement with lot's of extras as he showcases his ability to orchestrate with his small ensemble. Throughout the album Bennie combines his arsenal of woodwinds with synthesist Pat Gleeson's electronics to create exotic 70s 'futuristic' sound textures. When they occasionally add wordless vocals they almost take the music into 'space-age bachelor' territory. Speaking of kitsch, side two opens with You Know the Deal, a slow funk number that has blaxploitation soundtrack written all over it. Gleeson's bizarre synth breaks and Blackbird McKnight's classic late 60s fuzz tone psychedelic guitar solo complete this gritty urban scenario for a car chase that never happened.

Next up is Lament, an acoustic classically influenced jazz ballad with Maupin on clarinet and Onaje Allan Gumbs on piano. The album closes with Quasar, yet another tune that originally appeared on a Sextet album. This time I prefer the more subtle original version to this album's version which has the song's exotic melody repeated too many times and subjected to an anachronistic early-70s styled progressive rock like huge build-up with a massive string orchestra to the point that it really is a bit overdone.

If you like the sophisticated psychedelic groove music of Herbie Hancock's early 70s bands and soundtracks, then you will probably like this brilliant spin-off by Bennie Maupin.

Report this review (#214617)
Posted Saturday, May 9, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars This album is more of a Jazz Funk session than a Jazz rock session. One of the best unsung albums of an unsung artist, Maupin played Bass Clarinet on the Miles Davis classic Bitches Brew, He also played on The lee Morgan live at the light house double vinyl, he was in the Herbie Hancock Mwandishi band, This session as of 2011 , not released on CD, I picked this up on vinyl after checking out the you yube videos of each song. paid 26 dollars, worth every penny. it does have that late 70's vibe, with the smoother background edges, but the funky groove and bubbling sax work is is perfect. if you like the mwandishi band, you will like this. it's a little smoother though. and not quite as complex. but not the dreaded Fusak.
Report this review (#432419)
Posted Wednesday, April 13, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars It's probably kicking in an open door to mention Bennie Maupin plays more the funky jazz than sheer jazz. The great wind artist is nevertheless essential for jazz history (or is that kicking in this same open door ? :) And this fantastic album undeniably reminds me of how much I actually love jazz and all its side ways. Because besides my very favorite the smooth jazz (like Steely Dan plays it) also this funky jazz appeals to me big time.

And Bennie Maupin is a master of creating a great atmosphere through his music. It's the kind of music that was to be heard in typical 70's and 80's TV-series as Starsky and Hutch, Hill Steet Blues and Taxi. Boy, those good old days ... I even wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Maupin composed some of the music in those series. Mouth watering stuff really. And what I also like is that even though all songs are great, there is still variation in sound, style and atmosphere.

Funky Jazz is maybe not the best example of jazz prog but still I feel Bennie Maupin is justifiably here on PA, maybe in a sort of borderline way but, well at least I don't mind. His music is elaborate and complex enough to defend his presence. I love it to the bone and award this album with at least four stars. Music can hardly get much better as far as I'm concerned.

Report this review (#466189)
Posted Tuesday, June 21, 2011 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Comparing Maupin's first two albums you get a perfect illustration of the huge gap between the fusion of the first half and that of the second half of the 70s. Maupin's 74 'Jewel in the Lotus' album was experimental, daring, totally out there and mesmerizing. 'Slow Traffic' on the other hand is down to earth, funky, smooth and to my ears totally forgettable. It just makes me wonder how it all could go from mindblowing to wallpaper jazz in just a few years?

I don't know the answer but the music says it all. We start with the harmless soft-porn easy listening funk of 'It Remains to be seen'. Skip. 'Eternal Flame' is a bit more loungey and atmospheric. It sets a mood for greater things to happen. And the anticipation rises, because the third track is an adaptation of 'Water Torture' from Hancock's Mwandishi era. The musicians here are largely the same (bar Hancock) and since this track counts amongst the best fusion has to offer, I couldn't resist the curiosity to hear it. Unfortunately, this torture has become the type of funky muzak that is only fir for TV commercials, listening to it will just make you doze off. All magic and tension from the original is professionally destroyed.

The second side of the album follows the same pattern. A funk/disco track followed by a quiet atmospheric one and another funk/dub treatment of a Mwandishi classic 'Quasar'.

While not a bad album if you like the smooth silky jazz fusion of the later 70s (at least it's not cheesy!), the contrast with the creative excitement of the early 70s era is simply too much to take for me, and the result is at least less then half as enjoyable. Hence 2.5 stars.

Report this review (#508126)
Posted Wednesday, August 24, 2011 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars This is totally a mesmerizing album for me. I mean the title of the album is a clue and the music here has been called commercial, smooth Jazz, funky and the like yet it's way more than those descriptions. In fact give this record several spins before deciding because this is a smorgasbord of sounds carefully placed by seasoned veterans of the jazz scene. Bennie Maupin the sax and bass clarinet master played on "Bitches Brew" and other legendary albums by Miles plus he was part of Herbie Hancock's band in particular the "Mwandishi" period. Bennie gets Pat Gleeson to do his thing with those synths plus the great Eddie Henderson on trumpet. These two were part of the "Mwandishi" trio of albums. Most prefer Maupin's debut "The Jewel In The Lotus" for it's originality and he has Herbie playing on it along with Billy Hart and Buster Williams from the "Mwandishi" days.

Top three include the opener "It Remains To Be Seen" with that very interesting start and then we get this sax melody that is repeated that I like. Bass and drums only before 5 minutes then guitar and piano join in before the piano starts to lead. Sax is back and this is catchy stuff. Some vocals late and I like them. "You Know The Deal" has some nice upfront bass with trumpet, sax and more. Love the sound of Henderson's trumpet here. Guitar before 1 1/2 minutes replacing the horns then it steps aside after 2 minutes as we get bass, drums and piano standing out then the horns return. "Quasar" is my final top three and the closer. Drums and a dramatic intro then lots of atmosphere before the bass and electric piano come out of that, sax and drums too. Man I love the bass lines here, so good. Synths will sweep through at times but the bass is my focus here. Trumpet kicks in and then later we get a calm just before 4 minutes, yet the bass continues. Somebody stop him!

A solid 4 stars for this piece of art.

Report this review (#2506481)
Posted Tuesday, February 16, 2021 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Bennie just kept plugging along--as did many of his well-seasoned J-R Fuse collaborators: evolving with the infusing tides of funk, dynamics, smoothness, and commercial-consciousness (and pressure).

1. "It Remains to Be Seen" (8:01) opens sounding like soundtrack music to a sci-fi film, when the full band finally joins in during the second half of the first minute it's with a melodic funk.Throughout the rest of the song the music is surprisingly uniform and simple though melodic: until the fifth minute when the piano arrives it feels very much like a BOB JAMES song. Luckily, Patrice Rushen's piano solo with its backing electric piano gets the blood boiling a bit-- especially when the horn sections accents come in. Then the song mellows for a bit with some smooth choral vocals before going out with some engaging whole group participation rhythmic clapping to the funk. (13.25/15) 2. "Eternal Flame" (4:34) opens with the dreamy sonic landscape of a mellow Ronnie Laws or Tom Scott song. Bennie takes the lead from the start, soloing on the lower registers of his soprano sax while the lush keyboard-rich music beneath seems to carry us gently downstream. Nice key/chord changes here and there giving the song a kind of cinematic feel. (8.875/10)

3. "Water Torture" (4:52) another gently funky BOB JAMES-like songcraft that provides the vehicle for several lead instruments to contribute their smooth, melodic solos over the top: Bennie's tenor sax, Patrice Rushen on Fender Rhodes, all with gorgeous horn (and "strings") accents and banks on the sides, in the pockets between the solos. Beautifully composed and "orchestrated" though this is a far cry from either the rough, raw space music of the Mwandishi sessions (Jewel in the Lotus) or the power funk of Thrust or Spaceball. (9/10)

4. "You Know the Deal" (7:03) this one starts out a little more funky and a little more smoothly orchestrated--like something inspired by Eumir Deodato's work in 1973--but things go robotic BOB JAMES-like with a very blandly repeated rhythm track beneath Bennie's sax soloing. Also, the overall mix of this instrumental palette is rather foggy: nothing is as clear and defined as one might like; everything feels kind of washed into the same spacestream. At the same time, there is something really cool about the way everything is blended: as if the individuals have sacrificed their identity for the sake of oneness/coalescence. (13.25/15)

5. "Lament" (1:52) acoustic piano opens this before being joined by Bennie's bass clarinet for this tender, introspective piece. (4.5/5)

6. "Quasar" (5:53) another fairly long (45-seconds) cinematic intro eventually reveals a pleasant bass-launched and rich and smooth synth-dominated sonic field over which trumpeter Eddie Henderson is given first shot at leading. His play is quite dynamic: with lots of short and staccato notes and bursts; I'd almost call it "old school" but I have to admit that it's very welcome after an album in which everything seems so washed and homogenized. Luckily, the basic rhythmic and melodic foundation of this one is fairly hypnotic. (9/10)

Total Time 32:15

Though I certainly appreciate the skills it took to realize such tightly-perfected soundscapes and compositions, I'm saddened for the restraint and restrictions imposed upon this cast of incredibly talented musicians (many of whom had been collaborating with Bennie since Bitches Brew and/or Mwandishi): I loved so much the era in which multiple musicians were given the green light to move freely--even experimentally--and at all times!--behind and within the sonic landscapes as opposed to this new style where the composer, band leader, and/or producer is seemingly on a quest for perfect chart rendering.

B+/four stars; an excellent addition of the new smoother Jazz-Rock Fusion for the J-R Fuse enthusiast to enjoy as pleasant background music.

Report this review (#3050887)
Posted Tuesday, April 30, 2024 | Review Permalink

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