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Published: 2006/06/22
by Brad Farberman

Penumbra – Bennie Maupin

Penumbra – Bennie Maupin
One and the Same – The Jeff Gauthier Goatette

Cryptogramophone 129
Cryptogramophone 128

I remember when I first fell in love with jazz.

I was a freshman in high school, I believe, and I had been instructed to check out Herbie Hancock. Knowing next to nothing about the artist, I selected a Hancock cassette at random on my next trip to the public library.

The contents of that tape nearly knocked me out of my seat. The bass was bumpin’, the drums were funky, and the keyboards oh man. The keyboards soared and swirled and built and built and collapsed and built again. It wasn’t just good music, it sounded exciting. And the music told a story.

The name of the tape was Head Hunters. Today, I still return to that disc (what’s a cassette?) every now and again for inspiration, or for comfort. It brings me back to a moment (maybe the first moment?) when music really grabbed me, shook me up, and made me think differently.

Also, in attempts to recapture that feeling, no doubt, I try to keep up with what each of the original Head Hunters are doing today. I saw Herbie a few years back, and that was great. And I’ve seen drummer Mike Clark on a few occasions, including a master class he gave at the Blue Note and a sit-in with Deep Banana Blackout.

But other members are harder to check out. Bass genius Paul Jackson has lived in Japan since 1985 and his U.S. appearances, often alongside Clark, are rare. Multi-reedist Bennie Maupin, who has recorded with the likes of Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Jack DeJohnette and, of course, Hancock, rarely gigs outside of California, and hadn’t released an album as a leader in almost ten years.

So when I saw that Maupin had cut a new record, I had to hear it. And, sure enough, the disc is excellent.

Though it hardly resembles the electric funk of Maupin’s Head Hunters days. Penumbra, out now on the Cali-based Cryptogramophone, is a subtler, quieter affair that finds the saxophonist, bass clarinetist and flautist in the company of little more than upright bass, drums and percussion.

The hopeful “Walter Bishop Jr.” burns slowly; Maupin’s tenor sax dances over Darek “Oles” Oleszkiewicz’s low end while percussionist Daryl Munyungo Jackson sizzles below. The brief “Blinkers,” clocking in at 1:24, features tenor as well, but differently. Maupin wails and skronks here, in search of Coltrane. “Tapping Things,” full of Oles’ tremendous bass work, finds the quartet in funk territory at last, weaving a hypnotic line in and out of Michael Stephens’ groovy hi-hat.

Also new to the Cryptogramophone catalogue is an outing from the Jeff Gauthier Goatette entitled One and the Same. Violinist Gauthier has worked with a number of jazz giants (like Yusef Lateef and Peter Erskine) but it’s his work as a session man on nearly every Star Trek film and TV episode that is most telling. Gauthier makes violin-led jazz from outer space.

With the brothers Cline in tow on guitar and drums (that’s Nels and Alex, if you didn’t know), Joel Hamilton on bass and David Witham on keys, the Goatette offers dreamy, driving fusion music that recalls the electric work of Chick Corea (think Return to Forever). Highlights include the Gauthier original “Ahfufat” and a rockin’ take on labelmate Maupin’s “Water Torture,” first heard on Hancock’s Crossings album from 1971.

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