A piano master honoring an iconic contemporary…
Harold Mabern – Mabern Plays Coltrane – Smoke Sessions Records # SSR-2107 – 65:02 – *****
(Harold Mabern – piano; Vincent Herring – alto sax; Eric Alexander – tenor sax; Steve Davis – trombone; John Webber – bass; Joe Farnsworth – drums)
To have a certified jazz master at the end of his career (still vibrant!) play the iconic music of a true genius fellow artist- with an all-star backing in an intimate jazz club…
well it sounds as “good as it gets.” In this case, the master honoring his muse was pianist, Harold Mabern. And the “ honoree” was John Coltrane. And the end result is a near perfect product!
The setting in early January, 2018, was at Smoke jazz club in New York City, Harold Mabern, a master of hard bop, soul jazz, and later modal jazz, was serving a week long residency at the club. The sessions yielded three full CDs of material for the Smoke Sessions label. The third album, Mabern Plays Coltrane,is a labor of love. It is a posthumous release as Harold passed away Sept. 17, 2019. He was 81 at the time of this gig. His son, Michael, in tender liner notes on this gate fold package, states that this was a night that his dad held in reverence. Harold was playing the music of one of his “idols” (and that is saying something coming from an artist of Mabern’s stature..)
What made this occasion even more eventful is that Mabern is accompanied by established artists that he once mentored while serving as a teaching professor at the William Patterson University in New Jersey in the 1980s. (The “students” were tenor saxist, Eric Alexander, and drummer, Joe Farnsworth.). The rest of the sextet for this Coltrane tribute are all present day New York jazz stalwarts- alto saxist, Vincent Herring, trombonist, Steve Davis, and bassist John Webber.
Alexander, Davis, Webber, and Farnsworth were all members of the super group One forAll. Each member of the sextet had to be honored to be part of this special evening.
Listening to the seven tracks of Coltrane penned standards, and the energy and love present over the three nights that these tracks went down, it’s a case of “I wish I was there…” But we have the evidence, here in spades.
There is appropriate modal heat when called for. Harold had “big hands” in every sense of the word. They could burn when called for and play a tender waltz of ballad when it was time. “Impressions” burns, “Blue Train” swings like a mad man (Steve Davis’ burnished horn gives this take authenticity compared to the “original” Blue Note classic). “Dear Lord” and “Naima” benefit from Mabern’s gospel roots. “My Favorite Things” gets a bit of Coltrane’s soprano channeling thru Vincent Herring’s alto prowess.
Harold Mabern was loved by jazz fans for his graciousness, generosity, and piano mastery for well over six decades. This CD was a fitting close to his career. It’s pure class all the way.
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