If you consult the liner notes of some of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed jazz albums of the 1970s, you might just find Bennie Maupin listed among the musical personnel. He not only played bass clarinet on Miles Davis' landmark fusion album Bitches Brew, as well as Big Fun, The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions, and On The Corner, Maupin played saxophone and several other woodwinds on most of Herbie Hancock's albums of that same era. As a sideman with Hancock, he's in the Mwandishi ensemble, The Headhunters and even trades off with Wayne Shorter on some of the V.S.O.P. Quintet dates.
Even Maupin's earlier work from the 60s is enviable, having lent support to some exceptionally groovy albums, such as Lonnie Smith's Turning Point and Horace Silver's Serenade to a Soul Sister and You Gotta Take A Little Love.
If his versatile accomplishments as a musician weren't impressive enough, he can also boast credit for co-composing several tunes made famous by Hancock, including "Butterfly," "Quasar," "Water Torture," and "Chameleon."
And as a leader, Maupin's own albums from the 70s are in lock step with the stylistic evolutions for that decade. The earlier dates are heavily influenced by spiritual mysticism, while the later albums are drenched in soul-funk. The roster on these albums reads like a who's who of the Herbie Hancock school of jazz. The notable players include fellow alumni Paul Jackson on bass, James Levi on drums and Dewayne Blackbyrd McKnight, who also shredded axe with P-Funk, as well as Hancock himself. Also on these sessions are Ralph Armstrong from Mahavishnu Orchestra, Harvey Mason from any number of Mizell Brother's era Blue Note releases, pianist Bobby Lyle from Sly & The Family Stone and Young Holt Unlimited, and the queen of keys, Patrice Rushen.
His first solo side, The Jewel in the Lotus has an airy spirituality coupled with eastern instrumentation, reminiscent of Black Jazz and Strata East albums. It was release on German label ECM and befitting of that locale Maupin adds to his reed playing and singing some good ol' glockenspiel. The album’s contents are unfortunately blocked on Youtube due to regional licensing restrictions, but it’s worth jumping over to iTunes to sample the tracks.
Almanac is a quintet album recorded a Columbia University. The credits are shared equally among the five musicians but the other obvious player to listen for is heavyweight Cecil McBee on bass. I don’t have much more to say about it, as I can’t get my hands on a copy.
Now, Slow Traffic to the Right is the Maupin album to own and truthfully the whole excuse for this post. It’s stacked with ringers from The Headhunters and could be considered their lost album. His equally as magnificent follow up, Moonscapes, is a nice marriage between the spiritual vibe of his earlier albums and the space funk of his latter ones.
Following Maupin's successful run in the 70s he returned to school and only surfaced again in the late 90s with another German-released record, the politically-charged Driving While Black. Soon after techno demigod Carl Craig recruited him for the genre-collapsing, albeit thoroughly soulful, album The Detroit Experiment.
More recently The Benny Maupin Quartet released two albums on the label Cryptogramophone, Penumbra and Early Reflections, and sat in with label mate Darek Oleszkiewicz on his date Like A Dream.
Maupin also appeared with Ethiopian vibraphone legend Mulatu Astatke on the live album Mochilla Presents Timeless, released in 2010.
Miles Davis - "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down," Bitches Brew, Columbia, 1970
Discogs: Bitches Brew
Miles Davis - "Black Satin," On the Corner, Columbia, 1972
Discogs: On The Corner
Herbie Hancock - "Chameleon," Head Hunters, Columbia, 1973.
Discogs: Head Hunters
Herbie Hancock - "Butterfly," Thrust, Columbia, 1974
The Headhunters - "God Made Me Funky," Arista, 1975
Discogs: Survival of the Fittest
Bennie Maupin - Slow Traffic to the Right, Mercury, 1977
Discogs: Slow Traffic to the Right
"It Remains to Be Seen"
Bennie Maupin - "Anua," Moonscapes, Mercury, 1978
The Detroit Experiment - "Vernors," The Detroit Experiment, Planet E, 2003
Discogs: The Detroit Experiment
The Bennie Maupin Quintet - "Escondido," Early Reflections, Cryptogramophone, 2008
Discogs: Early Reflections
Mulatu Astatke - "Yèkèrmo Sèw," Mochilla Presents Timeless, Mochilla, 2010
Interview with New York Times jazz critic Ben Ratliff, 2009