Harold Mabern: Mr. Lucky (2012)
How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Pianist Harold Mabern's Mr. Lucky is a bon-bon: all sugar, with no protein or vitamins. For a veteran like Mabern, who's made some great jazz records over the years, and who can play fine blues with real grit, this one is confusing. Sure, making homage to Sammy Davis Jr. sounds like a good idea, but did it need to come off so white bread? Ok, admittedly Davis, with his frothy show tunes and mellifluous voice, was not competing with Billie Holiday for emotional depth, so perhaps the inspirational source is a little light, but the resulting record still comes off as bland.
Part of the blame here surely goes to tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander who dutifully states the melody at the beginning of almost every track. "Soft Shoe Trainin' With Sammy" opens with the tune played straight, with little intonation or excitement. Further into the song he opens up a little on his improvisations, but he never catches fire. Alexander is never an especially emotive playerhe's more of a cold bop technicianbut here, even when he's playing hard all he's doing is adding more notes. Alexander is a solid player, but as with many of his own recordings, he needs to stretch out, challenge himself and connect with something deeper.
Still, Mr. Lucky is not completely without its charms. The title track swings pretty hard, and even Alexander yells the tune with some verve. Mabern's improvisations throughout are energetic and well-crafted, if carrying weight commensurate with the material. The rhythm sectionbassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworthis impeccable, and Farnsworth, in particular, has really good taste, never over- playing and placing his accents just where they belong. On the two tracks where Alexander lays out "Hey There" and "What Kind of Fool Am I"Mabern goes a little deeper into the material and delivers fine performances. Recorded in the Van Gelder studio, the sound quality is first-rate.
But, in the end, Mr. Lucky is disappointing. This is a really talented band, capable of far greater than what was turned in here. Put this one on during a dinner party. It's lively and it won't offend anyone, but it doesn't say anything either.
Track Listing: The People Tree; As Long As She Needs Me; Soft Shoe Trainin' With Sammy; Hey There; I've
Gotta Be Me; Mr. Lucky; What Kind of Fool Am I; Night Song; Something's Gotta Give.
Personnel: Harold Mabern: piano; Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone; John weber: bass; Joe Farnsworth:
Record Label: HighNote Records