Mabern Plays Coltrane (Smoke Sessions)

Harold Mabern

Released December 2021

DownBeat Four-and-a-Half-Star Review




MABERN PLAYS COLTRANE is a vibrant live recording of the late, great Harold Mabern performing the music of John Coltrane featuring an all-star sextet with Eric Alexander, Vincent Herring, Steve Davis, John Webber, and Joe Farnsworth.

Harold held a special reverence for John Coltrane. “He was very influential in my life and my playing, too,” he once said. “After being around him and seeing what a great human being he was – man, I wish the whole world could have known John Coltrane.”

Mabern Plays Coltrane is culled from the final three-nights of a three-week residency at Smoke’s annual year ending John Coltrane Festival that started in 2017 ended with these performances that Mabern and the band played in January 2018. The resulting recordings also produced two earlier albums: The Iron Man, which shined a spotlight on Mabern the performer and interpreter and offered a glimpse into a typical evening’s performance and Mabern Plays Mabern, which commemorated Mabern’s gifts as a composer and followed his untimely death at age 83 on September 17, 2019. Mabern Plays Coltrane is the album that was originally planned for those live recording sessions. Mabern had always played a key role in the festival since its inaugural edition in 2011. From the initial weeklong fest through its later three- and four-week incarnations, Mabern was the headliner for much of the annual run, an indication of both his appreciation for Coltrane as a forbear and mentor as well as his own vital role at Smoke. “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.”

Track Listing:

1. Dahomey Dance (John Coltrane) 7:14

2. Blue Train (John Coltrane) 10:42

3. Impressions (John Coltrane) 9:42

4. Dear Lord (John Coltrane) 5:37

5. My Favorite Things (Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II) 11:48

6. Naima (John Coltrane) 9:10

7. Straight Street (John Coltrane) 10:51


Harold Mabern: piano

Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone

Vincent Herring: alto saxophone

John Webber: bass

Joe Farnsworth: drums

Recorded Live January 5, 6 & 7, 2018, at SMOKE, NYC, by Paul Stache with Owen Mulholland & Jeff Citron
Produced by Paul Stache & Damon Smith
Mixed & Mastered by Chris Allen
Photography by Jimmy & Dena Katz
Design by Damon Smith & Paul Stache


No matter what track you choose on Mabern Plays Coltrane, there are a dazzling array of solos: trombonist Steve Davis on “Dahomey Dance,” bassist John Webber on “Blue Train,” alto saxophonist Vincent Herring on “Impressions,” drummer Joe Farnsworth on “Straight Street,” tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander on “My Favorite Things” and the late Harold Mabern, who died in 2019, on nearly everything, particularly “Dear Lord” and “Naima.”  These seven tunes, assembled by Mabern, are a tribute and celebration of Coltrane’s formidable legacy and a few of his most significant musical moments.  These are spot-on choices from Trane’s oeuvre and so are the sidemen selected by Mabern for this live recording at Smoke in Manhattan. Davis gets things underway with euphonious blasts from his horn, a veritable fanfare of notes that at times seem to be voicing lyrics. Alexander is at the throttle on “Blue Train,” and he takes his harmonic and rhythmic cues from the openings provided by Davis and Herring. The pace here is only exceeded by the romp on “Impressions,” where Herring’s horn soars as if summoning Trane to join the session. Mabern was a pianist of tremendous verve and profound invention, and on each of the tracks he invokes different performers. There are lengthy runs that resemble the pulsating technique of McCoy Tyner; locked chords that bring to mind Wynton Kelly and tingling clusters that often signaled Phineas Newborn. Only this kind of ingenuity and gift could approximate the majesty that Trane bequeathed.

Herb Boyd (DownBeat)