Mabern Plays Coltrane
Smoke Sessions Records
The great post-bop pianist Harold Mabern died, aged 83, in 2019. His final recordings continue to arrive – Leon Lee Dorsey released Mabern’s last ever studio session just last year and here we have a live date from around 2017, released just now brand new. And if the title suggests big boots to fill it’s worth remembering that along with a couple of dozen albums as a leader, Mabern played sideman to the likes of Roland Kirk, Freddie Hubbard, Wes Montgomery, Lee Morgan, George Benson and Stanley Turrentine.
He was an extraordinary player. And you hear him close to full flight here (Impressions) with a killer combo in support. Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander bursts out of the gate on Dahomey Dance and the full band is a delight on a rip-roaring Blue Train.
Coltrane’s influence continues to tower. And with great players here that include alto-saxophonist Vincent Herring and trombonist Steve Davis the music is so well served.
You are not going to shelve the originals in favour of this – but you are going to hear some dynamic playing from a brilliant ensemble. And if you think of this as being part of Coltrane’s legacy as much as it is Mabern’s you’ll come away from these versions with a new respect for Coltrane’s compositional legacy as well as the playing of the musicians on this set.
Drummer Joe Farnsworth is always all-class, and on My Favourite Things he circles the frenzy that Elvin Jones would propel, but does it in his own classy way.
And the band turns Naima around to lift the tempo and find a new side to this tender ballad.
Gosh, it’s just a fun session to sit with too – such wonderful players, the atmosphere the audience provides makes you feel like you were there as you’re hearing it and you can’t beat this line-up of tunes. Dear Lord’s spring bounce, Straight Street’s old-fashioned blowing-session feel and the forever mercurial Impressions and Blue Train. It’s just top-drawer stuff.
R.I.P. Mr Mabern.