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Harold Mabern: Mr. Lucky

Jack Bowers By

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Harold Mabern: Mr. Lucky Harold Mabern brings his happy, blues-oriented piano to bear on this upbeat homage to the great entertainer Sammy Davis Jr.. Of the nine songs on the album, only two—Mabern's buoyant original, "Soft Shoe Trainin' with Sammy," and Henry Mancini's title tune—weren't closely associated with Davis. On the other hand, Mr. Lucky seems a rather peculiar name for an album devoted to Davis, as he was undeniably as talented as any entertainer of the past century but, at least in his private life, somewhat far removed from what could be called "lucky." In November 1954, Davis survived a horrendous auto accident but lost his left eye. He spent much of his life battling racism, which wasn't helped by an affair with actress Kim Novak and marriage to the Swedish-born actress May Britt. Surely alcohol, tobacco and drugs contributed heavily to his death from throat cancer at age sixty-four. Davis' body was later exhumed to remove the $70,000 in jewelry buried with him, which was used to help pay off his bankruptcy. Lucky, indeed.

Be that as it may, Mabern and his hard-working colleagues—tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth—give Davis his due, playing with warmth, vigor and dexterity throughout. Mabern goes it alone on "Hey There," and Alexander sits out on "What Kind of Fool Am I?" Otherwise, it's quartet all the way, and as this is a foursome that has worked and recorded together on a number of occasions, there are no unseemly blips on the radar screen. Alexander, albeit in his early forties and no longer a "young lion," is always a pleasure to hear, lending an aura of perception and integrity to every phrase, while Webber and Farnsworth keep flawless time and give the front-liners all the support they need.

Mabern, far from being overshadowed by his supporting cast, has more than a few melodic and harmonic tricks up his sleeve, showing time and again that, at age seventy- six, he is far from ready to yield any advantage to the younger generation. The fingers are as agile as ever, the musical storehouse apparently unaltered by the passage of time. Even though he entrusts ample solo space to Alexander, Mabern never wavers when it is his turn to shine, swinging freely and happily through every number while endorsing the premise that, perhaps, Sammy Davis Jr. was lucky after all to have admirers like Mabern and crew singing his praises more than two decades after his passing.

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 (1-3, 5, 6, 8, 9); John Webber: bass (1-3, 5-9); Joe Farnsworth: drums (1-3, 5-9).

Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: HighNote Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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