was nearing his 57th birthday around the time of the two 1993 studio sessions that provided the music for this Japanese release; he's clearly in a mood to celebrate, as the CD begins with a driving hard bop original, "Look on the Bright Side," powered by his aggressive risk-taking playing and fueled by a lower key solo by young bassist Christian McBride
and a series of powerful drum breaks by seasoned veteran Jack DeJohnette
. Although Mabern
's arrangement of John Coltrane
's "Moment's Notice" is enjoyable, it is because the rhythm simulates a jaunty stroll while the leader unleashes some pyrotechnics. Likewise, Charlie Parker
's "Au Privave" is never rushed, but executed with finesse. The musicians have fun disguising the introduction to "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing," a piece that can turn saccharine in the wrong hands, but their lively interplay in a brisk setting makes it work. "It's a Lonesome Old Town," a piece long forgotten by most players, has a thunderous introduction, but Mabern
reverts to its melancholy nature in the subdued body of the piece, though he can't resist tossing in a little of his lightening runs and heavy tremolos. He also plays two originals, including his gospel-flavored "Too Late Fall Back Baby" and the strutting "Big Time Cooper," named for a diminutive (five-foot four-inches) pianist Mabern
admired years earlier in Chicago. Highly recommended for hard bop fans.