Harold Mabern: Mabern Plays Coltrane

The pianist, with Vincent Herring, Eric Alexander, Steve Davis et al, plays a rather amphetamine set in which even Naima is a belter

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Harold Mabern’s three-week residency at the Smoke Jazz and Supper Club in New York as part of the club’s annual John Coltrane Festival in 2017–18 was obviously a productive time, ending in three nights in January that have already given us The Iron Man and Mabern Plays Mabern sets that highlighted his gifts first as a performer and interpreter and then as a composer.

Now from those same final dates comes a third set dedicated to John Coltrane. For Mabern: “He was very influential in my life and my playing, too. After being around him and seeing what a great human being he was – man, I wish the whole world could have known John Coltrane.”

But the John Coltrane that Mabern wishes us to know is not necessarily the one most of us are familiar with, for this is a fast-tempo, helter-skelter version that many will find off-putting. Dahomey Dance works well as a good mid-paced starter, a lesser-known Coltrane original that allows the sextet to stretch its legs, the two saxophonists in strong voice, but then Blue Train is taken at such a fast lick that some of the song’s definition is lost. Impressions likewise loses some of its impact as it hurtles along, although Alexander’s fine tenor solo rescues it somewhat, as does the leader’s idiosyncratic piano solo.

The set changes up a gear again, however, with a surprisingly jaunty rendition by Mabern of Dear Lord and then a fast, piano-led assault on My Favorite Things that avoids too close a copying of McCoy Tyner and develops well when the saxophones appear before bassist John Webber turns down the dial during a fine solo outing. But yet again, overall, nuance is lost to sheer speed, despite Mabern’s solo dominance. Even Naima hurtles along at great cost to its beautiful melody. Perhaps such speed is inevitable given the live setting, but not necessarily forgivable.

Discography
Dahomey Dance; Blue Train; Impressions; Dear Lord; My Favorite Things; Naima; Straight Street (65.02)
Mabern (p); Vincent Herring (as); Eric Alexander (ts); Steve Davis (tb); John Webber (b); Joe Farnsworth (d). Smoke Jazz and Supper Club, NYC, 5–7 January 2018.
Smoke Sessions Records SSR-2107