Take Five: New Music by Harold Mabern, Andy Milne & Dapp Theory, John Raymond and More

Dec 17, 2018

Harold Mabern, “A Few Miles From Memphis”

The hard-bop piano legacy has long had an articulate guardian in Harold Mabern. Now 82, he’s an acknowledged master of the form — though he’s not the sort of musician to push his own agenda. Earlier this year, in a profile by Jazz Night in America, he made a point of praising the subtle, complementary role of a sideman, which he approaches as a serious calling.

But let’s not forget that Mabern has indeed been his own man, with a solo discography that stretches back 50 years, to A Few Miles From Memphis. Recorded at Van Gelder Studio and released on Prestige, that album introduced Mabern as both a bandleader and composer: its title track is a soulful tune that evokes his upbringing in the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll.

“A Few Miles From Memphis” also opens a spirited new double album, The Iron Man: Live at Smoke, on Smoke Sessions Records. 

Mabern is in fine, familiar company on the album, including his trusted rhythm team of John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums. On tenor saxophone is Eric Alexander, who once recorded this song for an album of his own. The same partners will join Mabern for an album-release engagement at the only appropriate spot, Smoke Jazz & Supper Club, from Dec. 27 through Jan. 2. (Expect special pricing — and a featured guest, vocalist Mary Stallings — on New Year’s Eve.)

Andy Milne & Dapp Theory, “The Cusp”

It’s often said that music has the power to heal, though the conversation usually stops there, in a vague halo of positivity. After his own bout with prostate cancer, pianist Andy Milne decided to explore the idea further, applying homeopathic principles to his compositional process. The Seasons of Being is the absorbing result: an album of flowing themes designed for individual players, including cellist Christopher Hoffman and trumpeter Ralph Alessi, who both appear on “The Cusp.”


Milne and his working band, Dapp Theory, also feature a good deal of spoken word on the album, collaborating with John Moon and La Tanya Hall. But as “The Cusp” illustrates, there’s just as much expressive potential in the instrumental themes; consider the way that Alessi’s trumpet solo leads the ensemble into a brighter new groove, just after the 4:00 mark. (The drummer in Dapp Theory is Kenny Grohowski, and the bassist is Christopher Tordini.)

The Seasons of Being is available on Sunnyside. Milne & Dapp Theory perform on Wednesday and Thursday at The Jazz Gallery, with guests including Alessi, Hoffman, La Tanya Hall, guitarist Ben Monder and saxophonist Michaël Attias.

Lotte Anker, Craig Taborn, Gerald Cleaver, “Ritual”

Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker has a long history of sonic exploration on the European scene, and one of her core outlets this century has been a trio with Craig Taborn on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums. A decade ago, they recorded a concert in Copenhagen, which the Centrifuga label released as Floating Islands. That album, a persuasive study in collective unity, has just been reissued on vinyl.

As a freely improvised statement, Floating Islands takes a winding path; the piece above, labeled “Ritual,” drops you in the middle of a motif from the previous track, “Floating.” But there’s no sense of aimless wandering here, because of the intense quality of listening among the players. Consider, too, how expertly they build a crescendo over the course of this performance, steadily pushing toward bashing catharsis. Anker, Taborn and Cleaver will perform some of this music at 8 p.m. on Wednesday at The Kirov Room, 244 West 54th Street. More information here.

John Raymond, “Be Still My Soul”

Trumpeter John Raymond has had a excellent vehicle for his expression in Real Feels, a trio with Gilad Hekselman on guitar and Colin Stranahan on drums. After the release of their album Joy Ride earlier this year, the band went on an extensive tour, playing some 40 dates over the course of several months. One of those engagements, at the Blue Whale in Los Angeles, provided the material for Real Feels Live Vol. 2, due out on Sunnyside on Jan. 18.

This video chronicles an unaccompanied flugelhorn performance, with electronics. Raymond is elaborating on “Be Still My Soul,” the traditional Methodist hymn, with a melody borrowed from the Sibelius theme “Finlandia.” On the album, this introduction leads into a full band interpretation of the theme.

For more information on John Raymond & Real Feels, visit his website.

Nancy Wilson, 1987 Newport Jazz Festival 

Finally, it feels only appropriate to pause for a tribute to the incomparable singer Nancy Wilson, who died last week at 81. Fans have been sharing her music, and celebrating her gift for narrative storytelling at the convergence of modern jazz, R&B, pop and soul. In that spirit, here is footage of her full performance at the JVC Jazz Festival — Newport in 1987. The set list includes some of the songs most closely associated with Wilson, like “Guess Who I Saw Today.” But she also performs tunes like Leon Russell’s “A Song For You,” bringing the full measure of her charisma and focus.