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Harold Mabern: Mr. Lucky: A Tribute to Sammy Davis Jr.

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Brisk, buoyant and gimmick-free, this straightahead quartet date is as unpretentiously satisfying as that first swig of cold beer after a hard day’s work. In the liner notes to Mr. Lucky, pianist Harold Mabern proclaims Sammy Davis Jr. to be “the greatest performer ever,” and this beaming tribute brims with the innocent insouciance of that Rat Pack era of the 1950s and ’60s, when Davis palled around Vegas with Sinatra and Dean Martin and Mabern, now 76, was just entering adulthood.

The lead soloists here, Mabern and tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, are both master craftsmen of underrated artistry, their stylistic conservatism camouflaging their creative refinement of the blues and hard-bop idioms. Joined by their likeminded and frequent cohorts in the rhythm section-drummer Joe Farnsworth and bassist John Webber-on a project dear to Mabern’s heart, they set their intuitions on high alert and allow their expertise and shared musical experience to hone their ensemble interplay. As a result, precious few records swing so efficiently and reliably as Mr. Lucky.

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