A Good Week for Improvistatory Music: Bennie Maupin and Anthony Braxton

This week’s blog is written by Adam Kubota , Press and Marketing Coordinator at the Center for the Arts.

As many people in the community know, in addition to my work at the CFA, I spend nights playing the bass in various musical projects throughout the region. So, as a musician who improvises, as well as someone whose job it is to promote events at the CFA, I am happy to write about how two major figures in musical improvisation, Anthony Braxton and Bennie Maupin, are performing at Wesleyan this week.

On Thursday in Crowell Concert Hall, Professor of Music Anthony Braxton leads his Large Ensemble, which includes many guest performers. Professor Braxton is productive as ever these days having recently gone into the studio to record his opera Trillium E and is now looking forward to special performances this summer in celebration of his 65th birthday. To augment his lineup for Thursday night, Anthony has invited some major talents in the improvisatory scene including:

-Guitarist Tom Crean MA ’04

-Guitarist Kevin O’Neil, who received his MA from Wesleyan and his Ph.D from the University of Southampton, United Kingdom

-Guitarist/bassist and New England Conservatory faculty member Joe Morris

-Drummer Tyshawn Sorey, a rising force on the worldwide improvisatory music scene, a faculty member at the New School University and a current Wesleyan graduate student

I will also be performing and feel lucky to play with these musicians.

On Saturday night, clarinetist/saxophonist/composer Bennie Maupin will lead his trio at Crowell Concert Hall for a concert that is part of Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra Weekend. Performing with Mr. Maupin will be legendary bassist Buster Williams and drummer Michael Stephans.

Ethnomusicology Ph.D Candidate Bill Carbone wrote about it in this week’s edition of the New Haven Advocate and provides some excellent background on Mr. Maupin’s legacy:

Even among jazz fans, saxophonist, bass-clarinetist and flutist Bennie Maupin is not a household name. First recorded in 1965, Maupin was a tad late to the “golden age” of jazz, arriving about the time the Blue Note label’s cohesive, well-packaged sessions and stark, modernist album covers gave way to afros, electric guitars, altissimo saxophone wailing, funk and the mainstream music industry.

In 1969, Maupin joined a large ensemble led by Miles Davis at Columbia studios. After some masterful slicing and dicing at the hands of Teo Macero, the music from these first sessions became Davis’s seminal work Bitches Brew. Though much is rightfully made of the album’s layered percussion and electronic keyboards, the woody tone of Maupin’s bass clarinet is a perfect companion to Davis’s own warmth and is certainly one of the recording’s more haunting and defining elements.

At the same time, Maupin began exploring other territory in Mwandishi, a group founded by keyboardist Herbie Hancock. Mwandishi embraced popular African-American music culture elements and the avant-garde, often intermingling the two comfortably within extended jams. However, Maupin has undoubtedly been most heard as a member of Hancock’s next project, Headhunters. That band’s hard-grooving 1973 eponymous debut, which features the jam session classic “Chameleon,” is among a fistful of the best-selling jazz recordings in history. And I’ve only gotten to 1973.

Maupin, of course, continued performing and recording at a feverish pace. With the exception of a few late ’70s recordings, Maupin didn’t record as a leader until the 21st century. His four albums on Cryptogramophone Records are both inside and out; in short, they reflect Maupin’s assimilation of nearly four decades worth of music.

Bennie Maupin Trio
With Buster Williams, bass
and Michael Stephans, drums
Saturday, May 1, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
$18 General; $16 Seniors/Wesleyan Faculty & Staff/Non-Wesleyan Students;
$6 Wesleyan Students

Anthony Braxton Large Ensemble
Thursday, April 29, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Free Admission