Jazz CD Reviews

Harold Mabern – Live At Smalls – SmallsLive

An album of dynamic playing and rhythmic distinctiveness.

Published on July 17, 2013

Harold Mabern – Live At Smalls – SmallsLive

Harold Mabern – Live At Smalls – SmallsLive Sl-0032, 56:18 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****: 

(Harold Mabern – piano; John Webber – bass; Joe Farnsworth – drums)

Harold Mabern is a florid, dense, percussive, two–handed pianist who, when left to his own devices and free of studio time constraints, attacks each piece with force and energy. This Live At Smalls session is the perfect showcase to bring these attributes to the forefront.

Opening with “Alone Together” Mabern starts on some tangential improvisational sphere where one wonders if he is going to be able to find his way back to the theme of the composition. But sure enough he does, the rhythm section kicks in, and away we go. The familiar melody pops up, but the listener has to be sharp to pick it up. Mabern uses the entire keyboard with an organized command that is undiminished.

Mabern, who was born in Memphis Tenn., is for the most part self-educated on the piano. He had great admiration for other Memphis-originated pianists, especially Phineas Newborn Jr. In fact Mabern is quoted as saying some two years after Newborn’s death in 1989 that: “(Newborn) had more music in his left hand, than most piano-players have in two”. Mabern is no slouch when it comes to left hands and so when he riffs on the opening to Fats Domino’s “I’m Walking” his left hand drives the tune forward with the bass and drums laying out the beat.

Channeling the great Errol Garner is no mean feat but Mabern does it with style and empathy. Following Garner’s lagging left hand and block cords on the right, Mabern gives Garner’s composition “Dreaming” a sensitive reading. Segueing into Wes Montgomery’s “Road Song” provides another vehicle for the band to stretch out and confirm their cadenced and expressive facility as a group. Listening to the remaining track on the album, this seventy-seven year old veteran musician delivers the goods with his dynamic playing and rhythmic distinctiveness.

TrackList: Alone Together; I’m Walking; Dreaming; Road Song; Boogie For Al McShann; Sesame Street; Afro Blue

—Pierre Giroux




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