Leon Lee Dorsey
Thank You Mr. Mabern
Jazz Avenue 1
Harold Mabern, one of the great post-bop pianists, played soulful Memphis-blues and R’n’B-drenched jazz piano. He died, aged 83, in late 2019. There are over a dozen albums you can hear with him leading a band and he was a sideman on records by the likes of Art Farmer, Archie Shepp and Wes Montgomery (and that’s just a small selection of names).
This is his final recording in a trio driven by bassist/producer/arranger Leon Lee Dorsey and featuring former Headhunter Mike Clark on the kit.
This lovely tribute features some of Mabern’s compositions and standards from across his career in new trio recordings and the band is constantly cooking.
Mabern plays a waltz like McCoy Tyner on Simone, he sits in the background picking notes gently for the version of Bye Bye Blackbird (Dorsey carries the melody and Clark’s brushwork is sublime). And on Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon his muscular playing is perfect for driving the cascading ostinato of melodic groove that churns the tune.
Clark has been defined by his funk credentials – and a thousand hip-hop samples – but in recent years he’s returned to his jazz roots in work as a leader and sideman and here is subtly brilliant dancing across the hi-hat and cymbals on the intro to Summertime, creating a whippet-tight groove for the version of Softly As A Morning Sunrise and when he gets a chance to solo (as on Watermelon Man) he still brings plenty of funky backbeat.
Dorsey, a lifelong educator as well as player, is sympathetic to the work and the pianist in what was ultimately his final session. He plays with warmth and compassion throughout and when he has moments to lead (the beautiful intro to Misty, the fast walk that dictates the clip of the closer, Moments Notice) he does with aplomb, never dominating but you know who is boss.
This is a wonderful set of trio recordings, bittersweet of course – but we’re all the better off for having this. Maybe Mabern was forgotten somewhat in the scheme of things but he’s a delightful player and you hear that here in a fitting send-off.
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