The small, select Cryptogramophone label is celebrating its 10th anniversary with shows in Los Angeles and New York, represented on the left coast by multi-reed player Bennie Maupin’s gig at the Catalina Bar and Grill Friday night. Aided in part by some fine musicians whom he met while performing in Poland recently, Maupin delivered an absorbing, grooving set rooted in — and developing out of — the jazz-rock era of some 35 years ago.
If there was any justice, Maupin would be a jazz legend: He developed the most distinctive bass clarinet signature sound since the heyday of Eric Dolphy. Maupin was also a key component of the texture and feel of Herbie Hancock’s great Mwandishi and Headhunters bands, and his menacing bass clarinet tone left an indelible, never-to-be-repeated imprint on Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” sessions.
After decades out of the spotlight, Maupin is finally getting some undivided attention in the 21st century thanks to a couple of albums on Cryptogramophone and, more visibly, from the belated release on CD last fall of his ethereal 1974 ECM album “The Jewel in the Lotus.” The latter was a key missing link in the early electric jazz-rock discography, as it was recorded with most of the Mwandishi band (including Hancock).
The ethos of that era still plays a big part in Maupin’s music despite the absence of electronic instruments on the Catalina bandstand. Maupin deals in coloristic streaks of sound and arching structures that peak with fury in the center, supported by percolating grooves stemming from Africa and Brazil. Like Dolphy, Maupin doesn’t limit himself to one horn, switching easily between bass clarinet, tenor sax, soprano sax and alto flute — and he displays a different style on each.
The first number, “Neophilia,” found him playing a breathy, exploratory passage on bass clarinet before hitting a funky, conga-driven riff that was a direct spinoff from “Ostinato” circa the Mwandishi period. Also, possibly influenced by Maupin’s new Polish friends, the set took on a brooding, soulfully Slavic tone in “Spirits of the Tatras” and “ATMA” — with guest vocals by Hanya Ribka.
Pianist Michal Tokaj has absorbed Hancock’s ways pretty thoroughly, and he displayed an uncanny ability to make an acoustic grand piano sound like a Rhodes electric model — which suited Maupin’s cryptic ruminations and Munyungo Jackson’s painter-like percussion well. And fellow Pole Darek “Oles” preached a fluid, solid bass sermon on “Escondido,” prompting one enraptured listener to shout, “Tell your story!”