By Suzanne Lorge | Published January 2019
During 2018, pianist Harold Mabern faced the challenge of compressing about 60 years of performing into a three-week run at the New York jazz club Smoke. A complete retrospective of Mabern’s career would include all of the albums he’s recorded to date, as well as contributions to hard-bop, soul-jazz and post-bop, and notable gigging with a litany of jazz greats too fulsome to list. For all of this heavy lifting, Mabern has been dubbed the Iron Man, the moniker crowning his latest release.
The album captures select tunes from his Smoke engagement, when Mabern and his longtime bandmates were at their freest and most relaxed. On each tune, no matter pace or mood, the group was locked into the kind of sure grooves that only coalesce after years of playing together. The record opens with the funky “A Few Miles From Memphis,” Mabern’s own tune and the title of his 1968 debut. By the time he closes with another self-penned composition, “Rakin’ And Scrapin’,” he’s burned through some standards, traditional blues and honeyed ballads. Like the gig, the record runs wide and deep—one listen hardly is enough.
The Iron Man: Live At Smoke: Disc 1: A Few Miles From Memphis; I Get A Kick Out Of You; I Know That You Know; I Remember Clifford; T-Bone Steak; Almost Like Being In Love; Dear Lord. Disc 2: Nighlife In Tokyo; She’s Out Of My Life; How Insensitive; Mr. P.C.; On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever); You Are Too Beautiful; Rakin’ And Scrapin’. (53:51/70:42)
Personnel: Harold Mabern, piano; Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone; John Webber, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums.