Pianist Harold Mabern is a two-fisted swinger, a legendary presence on the many great Blue Note dates of the ’60s, who continues to add a distinctive groove to his many solo projects. He’s partial to playing blocks of chords hard and quick, as if he needs to get somewhere fast. His melodic ideas seem to dance from his fingertips. It’s his signature technique combined with a sound that’s shot through with honey-dripping soul, as sweet and graceful as can be.
Lucky for us, there’s no shortage of good, recent recordings by Mabern, but Afro Blue is a unique achievement that pairs the leader and his world-class band with five of the hottest jazz singers on the scene.
Harold Mabern recording Afro Blue:
Smartly produced by the resourceful team at Smoke Sessions, the recording arm of the venerable Smoke Jazz Supper Club on New York’s Upper West Side, the irresistible cast includes Jane Monheit, Kurt Elling, and the lovely Alexis Cole.
There’s plenty of Mabern’s driving, bluesy style on tap, but also two undeniable classic vocals: Gregory Porter makes the sharpest impression on a dazzling “The Man from Hyde Park,” Mabern’s original about Herbie Hancock, and a welcome Norah Jones dips into jazz again on a bravura arrangement of “Fools Rush In” that bops along at a danceable tempo with a “Poinciana” beat.
The album notably reunites him with long time collaborator, saxophonist Eric Alexander. Afro Blue, however, is something special in his discography in that it spotlights Mabern’s natural affinity with singers, his lyrical accompaniment on the keys and four tight, horn-laced instrumentals that define modern bebop.
This article is from the June 2015 edition of ICON Magazine, the only publication in the Greater Delaware Valley and beyond solely devoted to coverage of music, fine and performing arts, pop culture, and entertainment. More information.