Harold Mabern

To Love And Be Loved
(Smoke Sessions Records)

For a practitioner of bluesy hard-bop, New York via Chicago via Memphis is a pretty solid pedigree—particularly when such settings find you called, as Harold Mabern was, to work and study with the likes of Ahmad Jamal, Lee Morgan and Miles Davis. But Mabern never has been one to tout pedigree or get hemmed in by labels and marquee names—which might explain his proclivity for sticking to the sideman role or, in the case of his 2015 singer-focused release, Afro Blue (Smoke Sessions), sharing the spotlight with artists who inspire him.

That impulse returns in a different way on To Love And Be Loved. Here, the inestimably powerful, blues-fueled engine that drives Mabern’s most thrilling work gets alternately offset and emboldened by the contributions of his former students, Eric Alexander (tenor saxophone) and Freddie Hendrix (trumpet). Mabern’s Davis-era cohort Jimmy Cobb appears, too, along with bassist Nat Reeves and Cyro Baptista, whose percussion work adds depth to the breezy bossa vibe on the opener and title track.

After a somewhat sleepy start, things start cooking on “The Gigolo,” as Hendrix, who arranged this version, shifts gears from a warm, rolling chorus to a crisp and intense take on the solo. But the album peaks with the rolling, popping, boisterous stride solo journey that is “Dat Dere.” Though he’s performed and recorded this one before, the pianist’s fearless melodic attack of the ivories and unfailingly soulful feel for the blues remain poised to make longtime fans fall in love all over again.