THE PRESS RELEASE: It is with a mixture of pride and sorrow that Smoke Sessions Records announces the release of Harold Mabern’s Mabern Plays Mabern. Pride because Mabern’s 27th recording as a leader, culled from the same three January 2018 nights that generated his 26th, The Iron Man: Live At Smoke, documents the master pianist, then 81, in prime form, functioning as an inspired soloist, attentive accompanist, melodic interpreter, and crafty tunesmith. Sorrow because the release is posthumous — Harold Mabern died on Sept. 17, 2019, at the age of 83. For the engagement in question, Mabern convened longstanding bandmates Eric Alexander on tenor saxophone, John Webber on bass, and Joe Farnsworth on drums, augmented by Steve Davis on trombone and Vincent Herring on alto saxophone. All members rise to the occasion on repertoire that spans 51 years of Mabern’s six decades as a recording artist, leader and sideman.”
MY TWO CENTS: Originally slated to come out on the piano master’s 84th birthday, this unexpectedly posthumous release is a gift to fans and newbies alike. Or anyone else who enjoys hearing a musical legend give a vibrantly adventurous and potently creative performance — while backed by a muscularly cooking but still nimble small combo in an intimate setting.