"He blends the soul of Memphis with the madness of Manhattan and a life experience as
one of the music's outstanding pianists to create musical muscle that immediately
draws you in and a sensitivity that keeps you there. Anytime is the right time for Harold Mabern!" - WBGO
The label's first title, Right On Time, is by the jazz piano eminence Harold Mabern. It's a fitting debut for Smoke Sessions as Mabern's frequent presence at Smoke over the years was instrumental in making it a major jazz destination. While most people his age are enjoying retirement, Mabern is still happily in the trenches in the sixth decade of his illustrious career. Clearly, he still has a lot to say.
Recorded over the weekend of his 77th birthday celebration in March 2013, Right on Time--which he dedicates to his idol, and fellow Memphis piano giant, Phineas Newborn, Jr.--captures all of the highlights of his two nights at Smoke with bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth, one of his two working trios. Mabern knows a thing or two about putting together a balanced musical program and he draws on an extensive repertoire for this title including classic blues, swinging standards, moving ballads, and modal tempests.
Always on the lookout for material from outside the jazz box, Mabern opens Right on Time with Peter Brown's disco hit "Dance with Me." He finds another surprising gem in plain sight with the well-known Theme to Laverne and Shirley "Making our Dreams Come True." He also includes some of his favorite composers-Richard Rodgers, Thad Jones, Henry Mancini, and Hoagy Carmichael-and delivers an unusually melancholy and particularly beautiful rendition of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." There is a blistering, bebop reading of "Cherokee," as well as "Seven Steps to Heaven" conceived during his time with Miles in the '60s and his own beloved original, "Edward Lee" dedicated to trumpeter Lee Morgan. Finally, he builds the ebulliently swinging "Blues for Frank 'n' Paul 'n' All" from another unlikely source-the outgoing message on his answering machine. It was a melodic fragment that proved so popular with fellow musicians that he "finished it" with an ending and now dedicates it to the entire Smoke family.
Many consider Mabern the very definition of a "jazz master," and Right On Time is just the most recent evidence that it's high time that the National Endowment for the Arts officially makes him a Jazz Master, too.