The Jewel In The Lotus
Let’s cut to the chase. The Jewel In The Lotus is one of the unheralded masterpieces of the 1970s. It’s a slippery album that doesn’t fit easy categories: An ECM release that sounds nothing like the rest of their crystalline catalog, an album by renowned fusion musicians that showcases no rock influences, and an adventurous musical statement with no overt trappings of the avant garde. But these seeming contradictions all contribute to the album’s continuing relevance.
The impressive band featured on Lotus is a splinter cell of Herbie Hancock’s great Mwandishi ensemble. Unlike other efforts by this group – Julian Priester’s Love, Love or Eddie Henderson’s Realization – the musicians don’t spin variations on their visionary electro-groove sound. In fact, these tunes aren’t particularly funky, noisy, or even traditionally jazzy. Instead, Lotus offers a series of heady tone poems, an Eastern-inflected chamber music rich in otherworldly textures.
A lush and pulsing soundscape, “Ensenada” highlights the burbling rhythms of Buster Williams and Frederick Waits and the keening lines of Maupin. After a meditative opening, “Mappo” evolves into a vehicle for Hancock, who cuts loose on piano with galloping bluesy runs and thorny clusters. “Excursion” unfurls a slice of spooky atmospherics, featuring Maupin’s menacing vocalizing and ringing bass clarinet.
Finally available on CD, Lotus embodies many of the best musical elements of the decade while refusing to be strictly defined by them. Bennie Maupin’s unusual sonic combinations and patiently interlocking compositions still sound surprisingly fresh, representing a fertile path that has remained largely untravelled in jazz. Those who explore the album’s many facets will discover not just a lost gem, but a potential reflection of the future.
- Jeff Jackson