It was hard to miss Sammy Davis Jr. during the 1960s, as he was prominent on the radio with a number of hits, as well as singing, dancing, and doing comedy on TV and acting in films. Yet the contributions of this talented entertainer have been overlooked since his death in 1990. Harold Mabern has long thought of paying tribute to him and this 2012 release conveys the joy of Davis on-stage, even without vocals. The pianist is joined by tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, bassist John Webber, and drummer Joe Farnsworth, with a mix of songs from musicals, movies and Davis' hit records. The quartet's swinging take of "Mr. Lucky" features strong solos by Mabern and Alexander, a working relationship that dates back to the dawn of the tenor saxophonist's career two decades earlier. Mabern's "Soft Shoe Trainin' with Sammy" fits the late entertainer perfectly, an upbeat dance number with the pianist emulating Davis' adept dancing, an intricate solo by Webber, and Alexander's robust tenor, all driven by Farnsworth's light brushwork. Alexander's vocal-like tenor is the centerpiece of the driving take of "Night Song." Mabern's touching piano solo of "Hey There" is elegant and romantic; it is easy to imagine an approving Davis standing by his side, singing with him. The rhythm section's subtle take of "What Kind of Fool Am I?" utilizes plenty of space, with Mabern's shimmering piano supported flawlessly by his bandmates. Hopefully this outstanding addition to Harold Mabern's discography will inspire U.S. labels to record the veteran on a more frequent basis.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden