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For a man who embodied the spirit of Mwandishi and the Headhunters this is a decidedly ungroovy, funkless affair - the sort of stuff only the great ECM would put out. Meditative, abstract with an almost orchestral feel at times, this is music which breaks down every convention of structure, but in a soothing, harmonious kind of way. Best listened to without preconception or impatience.
The Rapture is here and those who look back will turn to stone (metaphorically speaking, of course)! This music is ravishing and revelatory. However, contrary to the suggestive title and another reviewer's comments below, I do not think it meditative in the Zen-like sense of the word. This is NOT quiet, relaxing, contemplative music. If you're looking for meditative music, look no further than Tony Scott's "Music for Zen Meditation" (Verve, 1964). Act 2, "Mappo", reminds this reviewer of jazz flautist Herbert Laws' powerful interpretation of Igor Stravinky's masterpiece "Rite of Spring" (CTI, 1971) in its intensity and fervor.
Traveling from one glorious passage to another, the listener can construct his or her own meaning and story line from hauntingly beautiful notes. My story came from the book of Genesis~ the creation, the Garden of Eden, Satan's temptation, Adam & Eve's fall from grace, Noah's call of purpose from God, the construction of Noah's ark, the "march" of the animals, the chaos of the deluge, the morning after the flood, and the dove's flight over receding water to dry land and back. Dante Alighieri's literary masterpiece also comes to mind. However you "mine" this music and whatever your story, it is bound to be rich.
"The Jewel in the Lotus" (ECM 1974) is a gem (No pun intended!) among a multitude of experimental efforts in 70s jazz. Recorded a year after Herbie Handcock's "Head Hunters" (Columbia/Legacy 1973) and retaining many of the same musicians, it sounds nothing like its predecessor save for the fact that both break the boundaries of the background lounge music that popular "jazz" had become by the late 60s. The edge and energy is paralleled in few other contemporaneous recordings. All members graciously contribute their best but it is Buster Williams' bass that drives Bennie Maupins' brilliant compositions. Act 3, "Excursion", echoes bassist Charles Mingus' "Let My Children Hear Music" (Columbia/Legacy 1971). In fact, after listening to both "The Jewel..." and "Let My Children...", listeners can find many comparisons. Though there is no historical commentary of which I'm aware that links Bennie Maupin's band with that of Charles Mingus' orchestra, these musicians could not have been ignorant of this sage's later day masterpiece (See my review).
This CD was reissued by ECM in 2007 but sounds as vital and contemporary today as it did when first recorded and should be considered a "classic" from the 70s decade. This is ART for the ears!
Jewel in the Lotus is part of a little universe of experimental recordings made by members/alumni of Herbie Hancock's early 70s sextet - the group that recorded Mwandishi, Crossings and Sextant. Despite some obvious links in terms of personnel and music, Jewel in the Lotus definitely has a different feel than those three albums. And it's hard to believe that around the same time as this album was recorded, Maupin, Hancock and percussionist Bill Summers were recording the Headhunters and Thrust albums.
This album has an introverted, meditative feel that in some sense anticipates new age music (check out the beautiful opener "Ensenada"), though stylistically it clearly lies in the experimental jazz-rock of In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Mwandishi and the early Weather Report albums. That's despite only sparing usage of electric instruments on this almost entirely acoustic album. There isn't much emphasis on individual solos, though Hancock's avant-garde piano solo on "Mappo" is among the best in his career. The two ballads that close the album - "Song for Tracie Dixon Summers" and "Past Is Past", showcase Bennie's sensitivity on soprano saxophone and bass clarinet respectively.
One of my favorite acquisitions from the past few years, and among the best I've heard from ECM.
This '74 recording may be called avant-garde jazz but it really exists well beyond the boundaries of genre. Pervading this suite of Buddhism-inspired meditations is an organic mysteriousness that makes it unlike any music I've heard. Though there are musicians from the "Headhunters" ensemble here, this work is really unrelated to the excellent funk/fusion created by the Hancock led group. "Jewel..." offers tempos that flow freely like water, melodies that fall and flutter like leaves in the wind, and an overall feeling of being shaped by the forces of nature --both beneficial and hostile. In this sense it is a miraculous artwork in both composition and execution. Bennie Maupin, ECM and Herbie Hancock et al deserve all praise for this daring and innovative recording.
The early 1970s was an era of commercial and artistic exploration of spirit and consciousness, opened up by the mid 60s drug-influenced cultural revolution. Time and space became more fluid and indefinite; the meditative aspects of Asian, i.e., traditional Japanese and Hindustani, musics entered jazz, too. Miles Davis' In a Silent Way (1969) had helped lead the way, and Pharoah Sanders in 1980 would actually include koto and sitar in his Journey to the One. And, of course, there was the recent font of free jazz. The group Oregon, beginning in 1970, would mesh jazz and world music into high art. Nothing, however, could prepare the listener in 1974 for this recording from artists as Herbie Hancock, Buster Williams, and Billy Hart. Structures and silences, form and emptiness, pulses and flows: it is like sensing something in peripheral vision but when turning to focus, the impression disappears. Always interesting, often surprising, sometimes frustrating, the CD is out-there and yet in-here. In fact, it reminds me of Japanese court music, gagaku. Such experimentation would pass and the coherent features would enter the realm of classical and world music and persist in the sound of ECM jazz. In short, this recording is more for historical, intellectual, and spiritual study than for simple pleasure, which is why, I suppose, it remains timeless, pointing toward a deeper significance, as the Buddhist jewel in the lotus.