Saturday, March 21, 2020

Harold Mabern - Mabern Plays Mabern (Smoke Sessions, 2020)

Pianist Harold Mabern passed away last year after a productive and influential career in jazz playing swinging and soulful modern mainstream jazz as a leader and as an in-demand sideman. During the last decade of his career he cultivated a very fruitful relationship with the Smoke Sessions label and their associated stable of musicians, which leads to this posthumous release recorded live at the Smoke Club in New York City during January of 2018. He was performing with a state of the art mainstream jazz band; Eric Alexander on tenor saxophone, Vincent Herring on alto saxophone, Steve Davis on trombone, John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums. These musicians were very familiar with one another and each had the utmost respect for their colleagues and the music they are playing, whether it is storming hard bop or a gentle ballad. The opening track, "Mr. Johnson" was written for the great trombonist J.J. Johnson who often employed Mabern in his younger days, and it is a track that allows the band to gradually grow in intensity, allowing space for a deft solo by their own trombonist, Steve Davis, and then finally working themselves into a fervor with a boiling alto saxophone in the concluding section. Eric Alexander wrote "The Iron Man" and Mabern adds wonderfully bouncy and percussive piano playing to set the stage for a potent Alexander solo followed by supple brass interplay. A Mabern dedication to longtime friend and saxophonist George Coleman forms the basis for the track "The Lyrical Cole-Man" which allows everyone to stretch out at length and the saxophonists to take lengthy solos with the riveting rhythm section churning underneath. After the maximum motion saxophone blowout there is a section for Farnsworth to plant his own flag with a fine drum solo leading to the conclusion of an excellent performance. Overall this was a very good album of mainstream jazz featuring veteran players that are still willing to push themselves to make the best music they possibly can, and it makes a fine memorial for Harold Mabern who was a master pianist and improviser. Mabern Plays Mabern - amazon.com

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