Leon Lee Dorsey

Thank You Mr. Mabern
(Jazzavenue 1)

Bassist Leon Lee Dorsey’s name is above the title—he led this July 2019 session—but Harold Mabern’s name is the title, and the draw as well. As the pianist’s final studio recording (he passed away two months later), Thank You Mr. Mabern finds him as vigorous and full of surprises as when he first hit the scene in his 20s.

Indeed, Mabern might even have greater zeal on these nine tracks than ever. The soul quotient of tunes like “Rakin’ And Scrapin’,” “Watermelon Man” and “I’m Walkin’” is through the roof: He could have stayed in his native Memphis and worked for Stax/Volt, a fact that drummer Mike Clark’s chooglin’ grooves acknowledge. Yet somehow Mabern is no less intense on a dramatic, waltzing “Summertime,” or even “Bye Bye Blackbird.” His two- and five-note phrases communicate as much as the whole melody does, underlining the bass solo as well before Mabern’s own solo drives it all home. Moreover, none of that prepares one for his charming Erroll Garner impression on “Misty.” To the end, Mabern was at the top of his game.

If it seems odd to dwell on the pianist on a bassist’s album, note that Dorsey formulated the title—to draw attention, one presumes, to Mabern’s winning contributions. That said, Dorsey does exceptional work as well, with fine solos on the modal “Simone” and “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” and otherwise shows a masterful ability to swing hard yet stay out of the way. Clark, too, reminds us all that he’s a beast, finding lines that are both supportive and creative but letting loose on “Softly” and “Moment’s Notice.” Ultimately, however, the title is right: For the music’s transcendence, we have Mr. Mabern to thank.

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