June 21, 2024

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Harold Mabern: Pisces Calling: Videos

Pianist Harold Mabern has long been known for his sideman work. In the 1960s and ’70s, he was on Hank Mobley’s Dippin’, Lee Morgan’s The Gigolo, Jackie McLean’s Consequence, Blue Mitchell’s Bring It Home to Me, Gene Ammons’s The Black Catand Stanley Turrentine’s Don’t Mess With Mr.to name a handful.

Starting in 1968, Mabern also began to record leadership albums, at first with horn players such as George Coleman, Blue Mitchell, Virgil Jones, Lee Morgan, Hubert Laws, among others.

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Then in June 1978, Mabern dropped the brass and began recording albums as a trio, duo and solo. The shift allowed the listener to hear the radiant warmth of his playing combined with the full intensity of his percussive keyboard technique. The first of these intimate leadership dates was Pisces Calling. Recorded for the Trident label, the album featured Mabern on piano, electric piano and synthesizer; Jamil Nasser on bass and Walter Bolden on drums. It’s unclear who was behind Trident Records, only that the label was based in New York and it released just six jazz albums.

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The tracks are Pisces Calling, The Lyrical Cole-Man, Waltzing Westward, Too Late to Fall Back Baby and Edward Lee. All of the songs were composed by Mabern, except for the title track. That one was by Keno Duke, a drummer who played often with Mabern in the ’70s and recorded three albums with him.

Throughout Pisces Calling, Mabern’s fingering is commanding and lyrical. His chords aren’t merely played but hurled like fistfuls of darts, and there’s an urgent snap to his delivery. His use of three different keyboards on different songs provides the album with texture and dimensional moods. Interestingly, Mabern uses the keyboard synthesizer on Too Late to Fall Back Baby to add the sound of horns behind his electric piano. The album was dedicated to Lee Morgan, who was killed in February 1972.

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After Pisces Calling, Mabern’s albums continued to showcase the pianist’s dazzling aggressive style and rich chord voicings. These albums include Joy Spring (1984/solo), Straight Street (1989) and Philadelphia Bound (1991-’92/solo and duet). All represented a new level of confidence and determination in the pianist’s music.

At 81, Mabern continues to record and perform today.

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