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Harold Mabern – Mabern Plays Coltrane (2021 [Official Digital Download 24bit/48kHz]

Harold Mabern – Mabern Plays Coltrane (2021
FLAC (tracks) 24bit/48kHz | Time – 01:04:59 minutes | 832 MB | Genre: Jazz
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © Smoke Sessions

Saxophonist John Coltrane is among the most influential figures in the history of jazz. That goes without saying. Between his own records and the records that pay homage to Coltrane, his music has remained in the mainstream for ages and is certain to for many more to come. Another of those noted tributes will see the light of day Friday through Smoke Sessions Records in the form of jazz pianist Harold Mabern’s new live CD, Mabern Plays Coltrane. The hour-plus presentation is an impressive new offering from beginning to end. That is proven in part through its featured songs. They will be discussed shortly. The group’s performance thereof is of its own import to the recording’s presentation and will be examined a little later. The recording’s production rounds out its most important elements and will also be discussed later. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the presentation. All things considered, they make Mabern Plays Coltrane a wonderful listening experience for fans of Coltrane, Mabern, and casual jazz fans alike.

Given the rapturous response to every new “undiscovered” John Coltrane album, reverence for his singular playing and composing genius has continued to evolve and intensify since his 1967 passing. Along with his working quartet, the late pianist Harold Mabern—a Coltrane fan since the ’60s—posthumously adds a voice of praise to the continuing parade of post-obit Coltrane hosannas. Mabern, who died in 2019 at the age of 83, was a Memphis native who played with Cannonball Adderley, Lee Morgan and George Coleman among many others. While there may be more Mabern records to be released, Mabern Plays Coltrane is a solid post-bop, nothing fancy session filled with talented players and an inviting soul. Recorded during a 2018 Coltrane Festival at the Smoke Jazz Club in Upper Manhattan, the sonics here, like the sound inside the club itself, are fairly compact but clear cut with good balance between instruments, lots of low-end response and a merciful few channels devoted to audience reactions. It’s clear from the set list, which is all Coltrane originals except for “My Favorite Things,” that Mabern worshipped him. Mabern’s long post-bop take of this epic song is livelier than Coltrane’s version, slowing considerably in the middle for bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth to take their respective solos. “Blue Trane” opens with tenor Eric Alexander wending his smooth way through a big-toned opening solo before trombonist Steve Davis and alto sax player Vincent Herring have their say. When Mabern digs deeper into the Coltrane catalog, like on the ballad “Dear Lord” (originally released on the Transitions album), he’s at his lyrical best. Son Michael Mabern writes in the liner notes that his father gave up his one chance to play with Coltrane when one night before a Birdland gig, Trane’s regular pianist McCoy Tyner had car trouble. The elder Mabern refused to sit in out of respect for Tyner. There are flashes of Tyner’s bold chords and innate swing throughout Mabern’s playing in tunes like the closer “Straight Street” (also the title of an excellent though often overlooked Mabern album from 1989). A jazz elder, recently gone, finally pays tribute to his long-lost hero. – Robert Baird

1. Harold Mabern – Dahomey Dance
2. Harold Mabern – Blue Train
3. Harold Mabern – Impressions
4. Harold Mabern – Dear Lord
5. Harold Mabern – My Favorite Things
6. Harold Mabern – Naima
7. Harold Mabern – Straight Street


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