Harold Mabern’s love of John Coltrane shines on new posthumous album

The late Harold Mabern showed his reverence for John Coltrane in a set of recordings that has just been posthumously released.

Recorded in early January of 2018, Mabern Plays Coltrane is culled from the final three nights of a three-week residency for the annual year-end John Coltrane Festival at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club in New York. The recordings from that residency had also produced two earlier albums: 2018’s The Iron Man and 2019’s Mabern Plays Mabern.

Mabern Plays Coltrane features the pianist paying tribute to his idol alongside a sextet that included saxophonists Vincent Herring and Eric Alexander, trombonist Steve Davis, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth.

“Playing John Coltrane’s music with Harold was like tapping into the source,” says Farnsworth. “He was like the vortex, and it all flowed through him. It was intense. Having Harold on the stage, given how much he loved John Coltrane, it elevated the spirit of the music tenfold.”

While it has only arrived years later, Mabern Plays Coltrane is actually the album that was originally planned for those live recording sessions at Smoke. Mabern had always played a key role in the festival since its inaugural edition in 2011, serving as the headliner most years.

“Harold loved doing the Coltrane festival,” Farnsworth says. “He was the one guy who played every single night and he took such pride in it. It was like he was saying, ‘I’m going to play strong every night, I’m going to play better each night, no one’s going to out-swing me, no one’s going to out-energy me, and no one’s going to out-charisma me.’ It was Harold Mabern time.”

The album was produced by Paul Stache and Damon Smith and mastered to analog tape using a Studer mastering deck.

Mabern died Sept. 17, 2019, at the age of 83.


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Here’s the track listing for Mabern Plays Coltrane:

  1. Dahomey Dance
  2. Blue Train
  3. Impressions
  4. Dear Lord
  5. My Favorite Things
  6. Naima
  7. Straight Street

Mabern Plays Coltrane was released Dec. 3 on Smoke Sessions.