REVIEW: Bennie Maupin Quartet at Ronnie Scott’s

Bennie Maupin from the One LP Collection
Photo Credit: William Ellis. All Rights Reserved

Bennie Maupin Quartet
(Ronnie Scott’s, 24 November 2014, review by Mark McKergow)

It’s hard to credit that this was reedsman and bass clarinet specialist Bennie Maupin's first appearance at Ronnie Scott’s as band-leader, if not his first time at the club: that was as far back as 1968.

A sprightly 74 years old, Maupin himself is a part of jazz history. He was a member of Miles Davis’s early 1970s explorations on albums like Bitches Brew and On The Corner, and an essential voice in Herbie Hancock’s legendary Headhunters quartet. Many of his compositions are named in tribute to his past teachers and old masters, and show great dynamic, tonal and rhythmic range.

A UK-sourced band had been assembled for a short four-date tour, and his sidemen rose impeccably to the challenge of bringing Maupin’s catchy and original tunes to life. Above all, the music was alive.

Over two sets, bookended with Joe Zawinul’s In A Silent Way played freely but unadorned, Maupin gave a masterclass in living and spontaneous musicianship. The hypnotic Walter Bishop Jr. rapidly raised the temperature, with the (underfeatured) Vidal Montgomery’s bass ostinato holding and flexing with the action while Rod Youngs gave himself fully three feet of backswing to launch all-out attacks on his array of cymbals.

The intensity of the music was much greater than on Maupin’s previous visits and on his recent recordings. See The Positive turned into a full-on funk workout with Ronnie’s regular Carl Orr shredding his guitar hard and fast, to the leader’s (and the audience’s) obvious pleasure.

It was a delight to hear Maupin’s delicious bass clarinet on several numbers. Neophilia started with atmospheric rattling bass clarinet keys before landing in a 7/4 groove that felt natural and even danceable, with Orr producing some limpid slide work. Maupin’s tribute to Lester Young, Message to Prez, saw another complex-yet-earwormingly-hummable melody given an almost calypso feel.

The short rehearsal time produced a group nicely on the edge, feeling their way together ,with Maupin sometimes leading from the front (his face-to-face duos with Youngs and Orr on The 12th Day producing some of the most memorable music of the evening), and other times beaming from the side of the stage, loving every moment.

A near-capacity crowd loved it all too, and surely, hopefully, it won’t be decades before Ronnie’s asks Maupin back.

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