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Bennie Maupin - The Jewel in the Lotus CD (album) cover


Bennie Maupin


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.26 | 23 ratings

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5 stars A Jewel in the Lotus

I've been getting back into the Mwandishi albums the past couple of months, and what an absolute joy it has been. These records are among the most wondrous and bewitching you'll ever come across inside the chops-dominated sphere of jazz-rock. For those of you who don't know, Mwandishi was the Swahili name Herbie assigned to himself, back when everybody was soul searching - and especially the black communities were finding a lot of power and inspiration in their African heritage, although these jazz infected guys probably would have stood out like a couple of soar thumbs standing in the middle of a dirt brown Kenyan savannah...

Anyways, all of the other guys involved changed their names as well - so Buster Williams became Mchezaji, Jabali/Billy Hart, Mganga/Eddie Henderson, Mwile/Bennie Maupin, Pepo Mtoto/Julian Priester, and Ndugu/Leon Chancler. -And finally we're off to the promised land of orange deserts, exotic jungles and growling big cats.

Aside from the cultural stand, which in all honesty was happening on a nation-wide scale much credited to a guy like Cassius Clay, the actual music of these Mwandishi releases, whether they are Hancock's, Henderson's or Maupin's, are among the finest inside the world of experimental fusion. Sure there is a direct lineage going back to what Miles was trying to do with Bitches Brew and so forth, but once you step inside the miraculous world of Mwandishi, you realise just how original the music was - and still is.

Whereas both Sextant and Crossings rely much on electronic fizzings and bubbles, Jewel in the Lotus is far more "traditional" in its instrumental approach - leaning on an incredibly acoustic and earthy vibe. Now don't let that fool you, because even if the electronics are all but gone, this album's expressive behaviour is still far beyond your every day melodic Brand X album. It's not that it is completely bereft of any melodies, but the focus remains an experimental one - even if it mostly feels arranged and well-plotted. Opposite opposites right here - and loads of 'em... Outside of maybe a few mad piano stints done by Herbie himself, especially on the second cut Mappo that feels like a man possessed trying to climb the Himalayas with a grand piano on his back, - the overall mood of Jewel in the Lotus is one of chill-out peaceful serenity. It puts you into a deep urban trance, that wafts overhead the black and sticky tarmac of the city and gives you time and patience to light a cigarette whilst overlooking the majestic sight of far-away rains hitting the shiny roof of an old factory hall.

Rather bizarrely I count this outing among the most experimental and avant guarde of the Mwandishi releases, yet at the same time it fits the bill of being the most delicate, frail and non-abrasive of the lot. How is that even possible? I guess it has something to do with the way these individual tracks revolve around Bennie Maupin's bass clarinet. He plays that thing like an ancient mantraing jazz guru, who's tired and stoic like a mountain - slowly slowly emanating foggy, cleansing, soothing breaths of sound. He never really flips out - leaving that entirely up to the guys around him, although you can tell how much of a group thing this really is, as none of them puts on their big kahuna hat and goes off like a rabid Charlie Parker on steroids. What covers most of Jewel in the Lotus in this intangible experimental coating is actually the percussive side of things. The nervous, vibrating and slightly edgy feel of the marimbas for once has always spellbound me. They flavour the music in an expressive otherworldly finish that gets me fantasizing about the deep black jungle, pyramids and tribal ceremonies of long lost societies from the heart of human civilisation.

This album is perhaps my all-time fave fusion record. It has everything going for it: that fluttering unhinged jungle vibe, highly soothing surfaces of sound, ethereal landscapes and lastly what makes all of this work wonders - makes the whole project leap straight up in the air, is of course an astonishing cast. If you dig the early fusion groove of Miles Davis, Weather Report and Herbie Hancock then this album should preferably be sneaking in your bedroom window as we speak - ready to get you entranced and bemused whilst you dream of Africa and rainbow coloured vipers.

Guldbamsen | 5/5 |


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