Pianist Harold Mabern has 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 Cat and Stanley Turrentine’s Don’t Mess With Mr. T to name a few. Starting in 1968, Mabern also began recording leadership albums with horn players such as George Coleman, Blue Mitchell, Virgil Jones, Lee Morgan, Hubert Laws, among others.
Then in June 1978, Mabern dropped the brass and began recording albums with a trio and solo. The shift allowed the listener to hear the radiant warmth of his playing combined with the intensity of his percussive keyboard technique. The first of these smaller 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.
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 the title track. That one is by Keno Duke, a drummer who played often with Mabern in the ’70s and recorded three albums with him.
Mabern’s fingering is commanding and lyrical throughout the album. His chords here are hurled like a fistful of darts, and there’s an urgent snap to his playing. His use of three different keyboards on different songs provides the album with texture. Interestingly, Mabern uses the keyboard synthesizer on Too Late to Fall Back Baby to add the sound of horns behind his electric piano.
After Pisces Calling, Mabern’s albums continued to showcase the pianist’s dazzling aggressive style and rich chord voicings. These albums included Joy Spring (1984/solo), Straight Street (1989) and Philadelphia Bound (1991-’92/solo and duet). All represented a new level of confidence and elegance in Mabern’s music.
JazzWax tracks: Harold Mabern’s Pisces Calling was released on vinyl (Trident) and then re-issued on CD in Japan in 2009. The fact that it’s now out of print is nothing short of a crime. Hopefully someone will reissue this one.
I see it on eBay for $40.
You’ll find Edward Lee here.
You can sample the album’s tracks here.
JazzWax clip: Here’s the title track…
And here’s The Lyrical Cole-Man…
Here’s Part 1 of Harold Mabern talking about jazz in 2012…
And here’s Part 2…