Hour 15 The Rhythm Bombers of Manassas High – Charles Lloyd, George Coleman, Harold Mabern

The Rhythm Bombers – Harold Mabern & Charles Lloyd

On September 20, 2019, tenor giant Charles Lloyd wrote, “I am quite at a loss to express the acute pain I feel learning about the departure of my brother and long time friend, Harold Mabern. This hits very close to home – we go back to the early 1950s when we were both members of the Rhythm Bombers at Manassas High in Memphis – along with Frank Strozier, [and] Booker Little.… Matthew Garrett (Dee Dee Bridgewater’s father) was our music director. Jimmy Lunceford started the music program at Manassas and it had a very rich tradition. George Coleman and Hank Crawford had gone there just before us.”

Booker Little died at 23 years old. Great hard-bop altoist Frank Strozier left the music scene thirty years ago. Charles Lloyd, tenor player George Coleman and pianist Harold Mabern recorded some of the best music in their careers in the past decade. While Mabern passed in 2019, Lloyd and Coleman are still active players. Recent work from the Rhythm Bombers of Manassas High in this hour of Jazz at 100 Today!

Charles Lloyd “New” Quartet
In 2007, Charles Lloyd formed a quartet with, then upcoming, pianist Jason Moran, plus bassist Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland on drums. This durable unit has been justifiably celebrated and has proven to be a worthy successor to the original 1966 Charles Lloyd Quartet of Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee, and Jack DeJohnette. The Quartet’s 2010 release, Mirror, has an emotional intensity that we have come to expect from the later career work of the great tenor player. Although there were many significant projects in the interim, seven years were to pass before the quartet recorded again as a foursome with the live recording, Passin’ Thru. The title tune is one that Lloyd first recorded in 1961 during his tenure as the music director for the Chico Hamilton Quintet.

La Llorona. Charles Lloyd Quartet
(Charles Lloyd-ts/as, Jason Moran-p, Reuben Rogers-b, Eric Harland-d). From Mirror. ECM. 2010.
Passin’ Thru. Charles Lloyd New Quartet
(Charles Lloyd-sax/fl, Jason Moran-p, Reuben Rogers-b, Eric Harland-d). From Passin’ Thru. Blue Note. 2017.

In 2013, John Kelman on AllAboutJazz wrote of the Charles Lloyd duo recording with Jason Moran, Hagar’s Song, “Moran’s … prowess has, through his relationship with Lloyd over the past five years, truly grown in leaps and bounds. The only other pianists of his generation to demonstrate such similarly encyclopedic knowledge of traditions both in and out of jazz, while applying them to thoroughly modernist contexts, are Brad Mehldau and, notably, Craig Taborn… If Hagar’s Song is a revealing record for Moran, it’s equally so for Lloyd who… has simply never sounded better. His soft, buttery and immediately recognizable tone, and an ability to create flurries of sound that contrast with the tarter sheets of sound of an early influence, saxophonist John Coltrane, are combined with a more melodic bent that’s still unafraid to skew into more angular terms.”

Of George Coleman’s 2016 release, A Master Speaks, Raul da Gama wrote, “Somehow A Master Speaks seems a most appropriate title for George Coleman’s performance at the Smoke Club, wonderfully captured on disc. This is not merely because of the NEA Master connection but quite simply because Coleman is a master in every sense of the word. The big, gentle bark of his tenor saxophone is the epitomé of gladiatorial grandeur. The tone is plush and informed by a gravitas that has long since passed for most tenor players of his or the next generation. His articulation is absolutely marvellous and portrays how a human being perceives reality at any given time. Of the tenor players still living, only Pharoah Sanders, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter and Archie Shepp can play with such a deep sense of meaning; so in tune with life.”

Bess, You Is My Woman Now. Charles Lloyd – Jason Moran duo
(Charles Lloyd-ts, Jason Moran-p). From Hagar’s Song. ECM. 2012.
These Foolish Things. George Coleman – Mike Le Donne duo
(George Coleman-ts, Mike LeDonne-p). From A Master Speaks. Smoke Sessions. 2016.

Charles Lloyd and the Marvels
In 2016 and again in 2018, Charles Lloyd teamed with guitarist Bill Frisell to form a blended group, The Marvels, featuring Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland from Lloyd’s quartet and Frisell’s frequent collaborator Greg Leisz on pedal steel. On both discs, the results are pensive, elegiac and beautiful with mostly familiar playlists that range from the timeless Shenandoah to the Jimi Hendrix classic, Angel. The latter features a wounded vocal from Lucinda Williams of the hopeful lyric sung against Lloyd’s melodic accompaniment.

Shenandoah. Charles Lloyd & The Marvels
(Charles Lloyd-fl/ts, Bill Frisell-g, Greg Leisz-stl-g, Reuben Rogers-b, Eric Harland-d). From I Long to See You. Blue Note. 2016
Angel. Charles Lloyd & The Marvels + Lucinda Williams
(Charles Lloyd-ts, Bill Frisell-g, Greg Leisz-pdl-stl-g/dobro, Reuben Rogers-b, Eric Harland-d, Lucinda Williams-voc). From Vanished Gardens.  Blue Note. 2018

Harold Mabern and George Coleman
In his last several years, Harold Mabern’s work was well documented by Smoke Sessions Records including three discs of live material from 2018. His wonderful straight-ahead disc of 2019, To Love and Be Loved, includes a reprise of The Gigolo which he recorded in 1965 with the composer Lee Morgan in a group that included Wayne Shorter. Thomas Conrad at JazzTimes points out that “The drummer is 88-year-old Jimmy Cobb. Mabern and Cobb first played together in 1963, in a short-lived Miles Davis band with saxophonists [and fellow Rhythm Bombers] George Coleman and Frank Strozier and bassist Ron Carter.”

George Coleman’s 2019 release, The Quartet, features his then working quartet of Harold Mabern, John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums. The highlight of the record is the continuing conversation between Coleman and Mabern, in what its last flowering after almost 70 years. The quartet played a touching rendition of Benny Golson’s Along Came Betty, which Mabern recorded with the composer on The Jazztet’s 1962 disc Another Git Together.

The Gigolo. Harold Mabern Quartet with Freddie Hendrix
(Freddie Hendrix-tp, Eric Alexander-ts, Harold Mabern-p, Nat Reeves-b, Jimmy Cobb-d). From To Love And Be Loved. Smoke Sessions. 2019.
Along Came Betty. George Coleman Quartet
(George Coleman-ts, Harold Mabern-p, John Webber-b, Joe Farnsworth-d). From The Quartet. Smoke Sessions. 2019.

Harold Mabern died on September 17, 2019 after giving us 60 years of great music. To recognize his passing, Charles Lloyd wrote, “Harold was a scholar of our history, insightful, hilarious, sincere, deep, with intense, boundless energy and inclusive with his warmth. Before they called him “Leading Man,” his nick name was “Big Hands.” With the broad reach of those hands, he caressed many beautiful chords. He was a story teller and every note he played had a message… He is a part of me and I miss him.” NEA Jazz Masters Charles Lloyd and George Coleman continue to bless us with their music.

Attarian, Hrayr. (2010, September 16). AllAboutJazz. Charles Lloyd: Mirror. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/mirror-charles-lloyd-ecm-records-review-by-hrayr-attarian.php

Kelman, John. (2013, February 28). AllAboutJazz. Charles Lloyd / Jason Moran: Hagar’s Song. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/charles-lloyd-jason-moran-hagars-song-by-john-kelman.php

Bilawsky, Dan. (2016, March 6). AllAboutJazz. Charles Lloyd & The Marvels: I Long To See You. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/i-long-to-see-you-charles-lloyd-blue-note-records-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php

Da Gama, Raul. (2016, May 2). JazzdaGama. George Coleman: A Master Speaks. https://jazzdagama.com/music/george-coleman-master-speaks/

Bilawsky, Dan. (2017, July 12). AllAboutJazz. Charles Lloyd: Passin’ Thru. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/passin-thru-charles-lloyd-blue-note-records-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php

Conrad, Thomas (2017, December 7). JazzTimes. Harold Mabern: To Love and Be Loved (Smoke Sessions). https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/harold-mabern-loved/

Jurkovic, Mike. (2018, June 27). AllAboutJazz. Charles Lloyd: Vanished Gardens. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/vanished-gardens-charles-lloyd-blue-note-records-review-by-mike-jurkovic.php

Zimmerman, Brian. (2019, September 23). Jazziz. A Life in Music: Remembering Harold Mabern. https://www.jazziz.com/a-life-in-music-remembering-harold-mabern/

West, Michael J. (2019, September 28). JazzTimes. George Coleman: The Quartet (Smoke Sessions). https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/george-coleman-the-quartet-smoke-sessions/

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