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Harold Mabern: Joy Spring

If I were a judge, I might recuse myself from this case. With fake I.D., I saw Miles Davis at the Blackhawk in San Francisco in 1963. Harold Mabern was on piano. It would be very difficult to get me to say anything bad about Harold Mabern. But sometimes albums you’ve decided to like before hearing them really are good. Joy Spring is a rare Mabern solo recital, recorded in the mid-’80s at the Cafe des Copains in Toronto. It was released on a Sackville LP but never on CD until now.

Mabern is a rich repository of a particular slice of jazz-piano history (roughly late Art Tatum through Phineas Newborn to early Ahmad Jamal). Here he strings together a suite of items from his personal archives, like “I’ve Got the World on a String” and “Manhattan” and the title track and “Dat Dere.” Upon each, he builds vast musical architectures, founded on his powerful left hand and elaborated by his fleet, commanding right. “Indian Summer” is the closest thing to a ballad, but Mabern’s block chords and tremolos and hard counterlines render it more assertive than reflective. With Mabern, all the details matter because he tells his story every time.

Originally Published