WBGO Radar

Harold Mabern: "Afro Blue"

harold mabern

Well-known in jazz circles as a consummate accompanist for instrumental soloists, pianist Harold Mabern also has a special gift for sensitive and supportive playing behind singers.

It’s something he takes pride in, and has been doing since he first hit the stage at Birdland half a century ago with Betty Carter.

I love vocalists," says Maybern. "I love to play for singers, because that’s really how you learn how to play the piano, jazz-wise.”

“They go through every aspect of music— changing keys, slow tempos to fast, playing rubato, playing verses, all of the Great American Songbook—that’s really how you learn how to play.”

Afro Blue, Harold Mabern’s second release on Smoke Sessions Records, pairs the pianist with vocalists Gregory Porter, Norah Jones, Jane Monheit, Kurt Elling, and Alexis Cole.

The resulting sound, of his piano voicings combined with their voices, is remarkable.

Mabern’s soulful, blues-driven style is the constant highlight. He is joined by a horn section of trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, saxophonist Eric Alexander and trombonist Steve Turre, while bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth complete his reliable rhythm team.

Guitarist Peter Bernstein makes a special appearance on Steely Dan’s “Do It Again.”

“I’ll tell you, it was really the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” says Maybern. “It was definitely a challenge, but I think we pulled it off. I’m quite pleased with it, you know.”

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