Pianist Harold Mabern’s Right On Time is an exuberant trio disc recorded live at Smoke Jazz and Supper Club on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, one of four exceptional debut releases from the club’s new label documenting their live shows. The initial offerings include albums by saxophonists Vincent Herring (The Uptown Shuffle), Javon Jackson (Expression) and pianist David Hazeltine (For All We Know), each of which capture that quintessential New York jazz club experience. Smoke owners and producers Frank Christopher and Paul Stache couldn’t have picked a finer talent than Harold Mabern to include in the launch of their venture.
Mabern’s rangy sound is instantly recognizable. It’s big and pronounced and his signature motifs flow throughout his songs. His effusive solos gallop at a swift tempo, bundling notes that he skips down the keyboard. It makes for exhilarating music. Like many post-bop mainstream pianists, he rose up in the late 50s and recorded frequently as a solo artist and sideman (Hank Mobley’s 1965 Blue Note album, Dippin’, is a great example of Mabern’s style and artistry), and currently it’s as if he’s been discovered all over again as a member of saxophonist Eric Alexander’s band and his own solo projects, particularly the distinctive Mr. Lucky (High Note, 2012), Mabern’s tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr.
Right On Time is the perfect album title. Mabern, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth swing with panache on tracks like “Dance With Me” and “Seven Steps To Heaven,” two tunes that give Mabern plenty of space to play with time signatures and his customary soulful groove. A rollicking, blues-drenched “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “To You,” a florid ballad by Thad Jones show both sides of Mabern’s capacity to communicate his deep love of melody and swing. But the last four tracks, when heard from start to finish give us the best evidence of Mabern’s gifts as a jazz pianist. “Charade,” “Blues For Frank n’ Paul n’ All,” “The Nearness Of You” and “Cherokee” have wonderfully creative arrangements and their own momentum led by Mabern’s melodic and rhythmic intensity. Of his many solo recordings I have heard, Right On Time could be Mabern’s best and makes it the right time to acquaint yourself with his monster talent. (11 tracks; 67 minutes)