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Harold Mabern: Live at Smalls

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In the three years since its launch, the Live at Smalls series has proven a microcosm not only of the sort of gigs that take place at the Greenwich Village club but of New York’s thriving mainstream jazz scene in general. None of these four new releases, recorded in 2012, push at the edges of the music, but each is a reliably solid listen that adds something of value to its leader’s canon.

Pianist Harold Mabern, at age 77 more than five decades into his career, remains a regular presence at some of the city’s more intimate rooms, often in the company of his trio mates here, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth. He’s a remarkably agile and astute player with a penchant for taking on seemingly unlikely repertoire and molding it effortlessly to his easy-rolling postbop style. At this Smalls date, he brings depth and sophistication to Fats Domino’s R&B classic “I’m Walking” while retaining its trademark NOLA swing, and his take on Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue” manages to simultaneously straddle dark and edgy and cheerfully upbeat. The Sesame Street theme is utterly transformed into a showcase for the three players, and Erroll Garner’s “Dreaming” is appropriately laconic and contemplative.

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