Recorded on March 18, 1966 at the Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey
Originally issued as BN LT-995, on which Reggie Workman was mistakenly identified as bassist.
This is one of tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley's more intriguing sessions, for the talented composer had an opportunity to have four of his originals, plus the standard "There's a Lull in My Life," performed by an octet in the cool-toned style of Miles Davis's "Birth of the Cool" nonet, arranged by Duke Pearson. Although recorded in 1966, this date was not released until 1979 (and reissued on CD in 1995). Mobley, who continued to evolve into a more advanced player throughout the 1960s, fits right in with such adventurous players as altoist James Spaulding, trumpeter Lee Morgan (with whom Mobley recorded frequently), pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Billy Higgins. The inclusion of Kiane Zawadi on euphonium and Howard Johnson on tuba adds a lot of color to this memorable outing.
All Music Guide
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There is a place in modern jazz for a music that is technically enormously sophisticated, yet retains its creator's warmth; that is as intense as the greatest contemporary works, yet presents an open, welcoming surface wherein grace, even gentle humor, appear in the stead of the conventional fierceness; that is permeated with the blues, but without sentimentality or the kind of pandering that the work "funk" has come to represent. Hank Mobley has made that place for himself. As H.L. Mencken wrote of Beethoven, there is no place for cheapness in Mobley's art; there is no evasion of the artist's responsibility for immediate communication (indeed, the absence of the cliche in Mobley's music can only be compared to the rare likes of Bud Powell). But the whole-hearted spirit of melody and swing on these rediscovered sides is the most direct kind of invitation to the listener: "The beat, the beat, they've got to have that beat!" says Mobley, and this set is typical of his work.
Hank Mobley grew up in the Newark, New Jersey area, heir to a family of musical tradition: grandmother Emma Mobley was a pioneer Black opera singer, and uncle Dan Mobley, a multi-instrumentalist, "had a jazz band like Count Basie or the Savoy Sultans. My mother wasn't a musician but if you played something that didn't sound right to her, she couldn't pat her foot to it, she'd probably throw her chair at you." Largely self-taught or informally instructed on, first alto, then tenor and baritone saxes. Mobley made his reputation early, and at age 19 began a happy period with pianist Paul Gayten's band, backing singers on the eastern rhythm-and-blues circuit. In 1951, he was just 21 and working in the house band of a Newark club when Max Roach hired him to play tenor.
His subsequent career can be condensed into a remarkable resume: with Roach until 1953, briefly again with Gayten, two weeks with Duke Ellington, a summer with Clifford Brown in Tadd Dameron's band, then a year with Dizzy Gillespie. A co-founder of the Jazz Messengers, he spent crucial years with Art Blakey and Horace Silver, and in the mid-'50s Mobley and John Coltrane were certainly the most active tenor saxophonists on the New York recording scene (the largest block of his five or six dozen records as leader or sideman are from this period). There were two weeks with Thelonious Monk in 1957, return tours with Roach and Blakey, but 2 1 /2 years with Miles Davis, beginning in 1961, were a kind of career peak, particularly in the Blue Note albums he directed in those years. He freelanced in the mid-'60s, sometimes co-leading a cooperative group with Lee Morgan, until he left the U.S. in 1968.
History does not record the names of either the first cop to fill his arrest quota by busting defenseless kids on fraudulent charges, or the first lawyer who advised his innocent client to plead guilty in order to insure a light sentence. Too bad - those two began what must be by now a multi-million dollar business, which is, of course, what makes America great. Hank Mobley's first conviction on possession of heroin charges came at least three years before he ever used the stuff, and probation was the result. He traces his "criminal" record to the long-lingering shadow of the deliriously wretched Senator McCarthy; there were two extended savagely corroded spaces in Mobley's life after his second and third narcotics convictions, in the late '50s and again in 1 964. He wrote the songs for this LP in prison, with Davis' Birth Of The Cool band in mind, then handed the music and detailed instruction to Duke Pearson in 1966. "I told him I wanted the tuba to come up this way, the other instruments to come up that way"- and Mobley hums the opening of "A Touch Of The Blues." "Duke Pearson's good with the pen. I told him, 'If I do it (write the orchestrations), I might take two weeks, but you can do it in a day."
Of Mobley's partners here, the two lower brass players do not solo. James Spaulding's alto solos betray his earlier experiences in a transitional Sun Ra band, incorporating as they do a soul sax style and agitated near-outside playing. The rest of the band appeared exactly three months earlier on Mobley's A Caddy For Daddy session: McCoy Tyner, soon to leave John Coltrane's famous quartet, especially fine in "A Slice Of The Top," adapting Coltrane's style to the piano in "Hank's Other Bag"; Billy Higgins, Blue Note's house drummer, precise and swinging as ever, particularly and increasingly inspired by Mobley and Lee Morgan in "A Touch Of The Blues." As to the trumpeter, long sections of his "A Touch Of The Blues" and "Hank's Other Bag" solos use entirely Mobley phrasing, inspiring the old question of whether Mobley once taught Morgan some techniques of improvisation. "Oh, yes" says Mobley and he reels off a list of a dozen or so jazzmen, primarily from the Newark area, who've profited from his ideas, including such obvious names as Morgan and Wayne Shorter, and some surprises as well - "my little brother."
"I feel like Charlie Parker," he says: indeed, his earlier style was largely founded in an extremely keen understanding of the subtleties of the rhythmic inner content and implications of Parker's phrasing - but even this expansive description limits our view of Mobley's achievement. From the beginning, his talented uncle emphasized the importance of musical contrast, and so Mobley discovered and internalized all kinds of contrasts in his playing: straight ahead vs. decorative lines, bold melodies vs. understatement, horizontal vs. simple vertical playing, great rhythmic spontaneity. He once described his ideal tenor sax sound: "Not a big sound, not a small sound, but a round sound." Though always agreeable, the character of his sound tended to vary on his earlier recordings; in the '60s, his sound achieved a three-dimensional roundness as his expressive capabilities and his confidence in the tenor's higher and lower ranges expanded.
On this date, his sound is ideal; in "Hank's Other Bag," for example, much of the listener's pleasure lies in savoring the beauty of Mobley's tone. He credits the influence of Davis and Coltrane with the '60s simplification of his style, for he consciously abandoned some degree of high detail in favor of concentrating his rhythmic energies. Indeed, he incorporated some of Coltrane's harmonic adventures into his mature style, as you can hear in the tenor solos on side two-a solo such as "A Touch Of The Blues," which consists largely of simple rhythmic figures, would have been inconceivable a few years earlier, and the threads of rhythmic contrast, shifting accents, and call-and-response with the band that he weaves all combine effectively. A special characteristic of his work in the post-1964 period, too, is the unusual structure of his compositions: the 40-bar "A Touch Of The Blues," the strange oriental vamp which is 16 measures of the 24-bar "Slice Of The Top," the vamp which dominates his minor waltz "Cute 'N' Pretty," "Hank's Other Bag" at least appears to be in the familiar territory of his beast hard bop themes, but again Mobley's writing is deceptive: the melody takes a bright, hip twist, and it's a 28-bar structure. All this may be some distance removed from standard post-bop practice, but Mobley and his players readily master these outlines-all were experienced in modal playing this time, and Mobley's out-stretched changes tend to nonetheless close to the classic blues.