Reports online suggest that Harold Mabern has died at the age of 83. Few details are otherwise available. However, Memphis website Commercial Appeal has noted the pianist’s passing citing his label Smoke Sessions Records as to having confirmed his passing. Already there are quite a number of tributes online that include this on Twitter from drummer Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith: “DAMN!!! R.I.P. Mabes”.
Mabern’s 2014 album Right on Time issued handsomely by Smoke Sessions and reviewed in these pages included an interview with Mabern and in the notes he mentions how he was taught by Dee Dee Bridgewater’s dad at high school (who also taught Charles Lloyd among other luminaries) and touches fascinatingly on Mabern’s Chicago days with Walter Perkins’ MJT+3 who had success with the gloriously laidback but now little remembered ‘Sleepy’.
Powered and seasoned by the blues Right on Time was an album to put a smile on your face. As did the elegant touch Mabern habitually displayed on records over many decades including 2006’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
I can’t find any audio to share so I will try to describe it in lieu. Pity that you are in the dark dear readers so far but perhaps not for long as the record is released coming out on vinyl, CD, etc on 27 September. A darn good trio record. File under “success on every level” if such a shelf existed. With the Yes guitar legend Steve Howe in his trio are Ross Stanley on organ and Steve’s son Dylan Howe on drums in a studio affair. The tunes are very strong. Jazz students who are learning how to write should study this record at college. Tracks are: ‘Hiatus’, ‘Left To Chance’, ‘Fair Weather Friend’, ‘Zodiac’, ‘Gilded Splinter’, ‘Showdown’, ‘Missing Link’, ‘Outer Limit’, ‘Western Sun’, ‘The Changing Same’. Three unspecified compositions on the album (I am still no wiser as to which three are by Bruford but no matter for the purposes of review because everything knits together well) Howe’s erstwhile Yes colleague.
There is plenty of poke on ‘Left to Chance’ Howe the da a riffmeister to his bones and this would be my pick of the whole caboodle. Howe (Dylan) is a very fine drummer, and he reminds me of Mez Clough a bit or David Lyttle while Stanley, a classy accompanist who shone playing with
Scouse singer Rebecca Ferguson provides a great bedrock and pencils in all sorts of shade and meaning.
The heat on the record is coming from Steve Howe, he is our guide and navigator; he solos gloriously and if you dig the jazz side of Jeff Beck you will like this for different reasons. One warning, however, New Frontier is not about scorching solos. I hear a bit of Pat Martino in his sound in the jazzier bits and that aspect of the record tunnels back to Philly jazz guitar in and beyond Martino. The great thing about all these tracks is that everything is built on tiny motifs that mean something when they are enlarged and then go somewhere.
There is a concision about the record and no bombast at all. This record revels in its wise choices. On the faster ‘Gilded Splinter’ the motor is running however and Howe the da finds new things to say and says them more than well. ‘Showdown’ has a quirky lop sided motion to it that is really grooving while Howe jr a jumping presence on that track and Howe senior vaults the frets a little in the vein of the facility of Artie Zaitz at happy go lucky play. ‘Missing Link’ is a joy, incredible technique displayed as if Howe senior is dancing on the head of a pin, the nimble lines and great organ swell upping the atmosphere in quite a gripping start to the tune which then tumbles along and you can relate to every note. Skip ‘Outer Limit’ because it is maybe surplus to requirements but linger over ‘Western Sun’ with its Spanish flavour thanks to acoustic guitar in the beginning and then finally the sense of arrival and panorama is everywhere on ‘The Changing Same.’ Who knew? Howe knew – more like it. SG
Tickets for Blicher-Hemmer-Gadd who appear at the Lost Lane in Dublin on 6 November go on sale tomorrow morning at 9am. Promoted by Dublin Jazz existing subscribers to their mailing list can avail of a promotional code to get a ticket today. Demand should be brisk.
Cast your minds back to 2014 and the trio’s self-titled C-Nut release. Certainly a feelgood surprise and of course a must for Gadd fans of whom there are more than one or two – the drum titan doing what he does best: effortlessly groove until the cows come home and here playing with two likely lads: Danes saxist/flautist Michael Blicher and Hammond organist Dan Hemmer – who more than cut the mustard.
Mostly Blicher’s music, with 1920s tune ‘In a Little Spanish Town’ and Yusef Lateef’s ‘Like It Is’ closing the album the whole shebang opened gently with ‘Well I’m Not Really Much of a Dancer,’ Blicher bluesy and nicely shrill, Gadd holding back. On the record ‘Babylon’ upped the excitement factor, Gadd’s offbeats and use of cowbell just great. It was a very listenable lively runaround of a record most of which you’d want to put on in the kitchen at a party. The live experience much road hardened since will be a revelation.
As for Gadd let us just sit back, close the old peepers, and listen to Steely Dan’s Aja (1977) and the title track especially because it would be remiss of any self respecting music lover not to regularly and to the epic era defining duo with Wayne Shorter that begins around 4 mins and 42 secs in but listen from the first downbeat way back at the start if you have a few more minutes for the big picture. Dan Hemmer, top left, Michael Blicher, and Steve Gadd. Photo: Bente Jaeger. That link again, to book in for Blicher-Hemmer-Gadd from tomorrow even if without a code, is here.
Updated link 01/10/2019: go to https://lostlane.ie/gig/blicher-hemmer-gadd-7pm/