Monday, 20 April 2009

Hank Mobley… Inspired by Miles, Blakey

Hank Mobley


I HAVE been listening to the many individual sides of tenor saxophone favourite, Hank Mobley for Blue Note Records and have finally come to the conclusion that he was more inspired playing with elder musicians such as Miles Davis and Art Blakey than his own outfits.
Among Mobley’s individual groups listened to is the cD, Hi voltage featuring Blue Mitchell on trumpet; Jackie McLean, alto saxophone; Bob Cranshaw, bass and Billy Higgins, drums. All six compositions are by Hank Mobley, who shares solo opportunities with trumpet player Blue Mitchell and saxophonist, Jackie McLean. His own solos are more brilliant and authoritative for what he is as a great soloist. But his effort is enhanced here for reason of the fact that he is the composer. As composer, he is familiar with not only the chord changes but also the nuances of the various melodies whose arrangements he has also crafted.
Some of the songs are the opener, Hi Voltage, a blues structure which sets an immediate and irresistible groove for the entire session. Two and one, which opens with a 2-chord piano introduction; No More Goodbyes, a peaceful song, which demonstrates Mobley’s ability at writing ballads; Advance Notice; Bossa De Luxe with theme based on the Brazilian Bossa and Flirty Gerty, a tune that swings along with a happy, humorous feeling.
The entire session is impressive with equally impressive solos as flash points. And in terms of cohesiveness, the entire ensemble grooves along as if they have been together for a considerable period of time, but this is understandable. Hank Mobley, Jackie Mclean and John Hicks are all alumni of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and so understand the chemistry that propels them along melodies and progressions. From 1954-1960, Mobley and McLean were members of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with Horace Silver sitting behind the piano. John Hicks joined the Messengers much later in 1964, but they all have imbibed the Messengers’ propulsive tradition, a feeling that drummer Billy Higgins successfully introduces even at the rhythm section level with patterns that owe their influence to Art Blakey.
On the whole, Mobley is in this elements as a leader, but his phrases, those unpredictable lines and the feeling of release and suspense associated with his stint with the Messengers and the Miles Davis sextet in 1961, are conspicuously absent. It stands to reason that Mobley was inspired by the high profile image of these artistes and the creative guidelines they introduced to performance and interpretation.
Mobley was highly charged and inspired in such Messengers’ sessions as At the café Bohemia, Art Blakey with the original Messengers, Originally and more. He was highly rated with Miles Davies as capable of absorbing and releasing the modal spirit that went into such album as Saturday night at the Black Hawk, Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall and more where he alternated solos with Miles Davis with Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers, bass and Jimmy Cobb, drums. This legendary performance attracted cheers from the entire audience not only because of the directions in which solo exchanges between Miles Davis and Hank Mobley went but also because Gil Evans 21- piece orchestra was also on stage.

Accurately described by critic Leonard Feather as “the middle weight champion of the tenor” due to his sound which is not as light as Lester Young’s or as heavy as Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobley tended to be taken for granted during his career but recorded a long string of valuable rewards for Blue Note.
Mobley first gained attention for his work with the drummer, Max Roach and Dizzy Gillespie from 1951 to 1954. An original member of the Jazz Messengers from 1956, Mobley joined Horace Silver when the pianist broke away from Art Blakey to form his own group from 1956-1957. Mobley was back with Art Blakey briefly in 1959 and spent a brilliant period with Miles Davis from 1961 to 1962. But in the main, he worked as a leader, on his own in the 60s.
Hank Mobley, one of Jazz’s finest soloists with the right improvisational concepts was in Europe during much of 1968-1970 and recorded with the pianist Cedar Walton in 1972. But by the mid- 70s, he was largely retired due to bad health.
Mobley led isolated dates for various record companies including Savoy, Prestige and Roulette, but it is for his 25 Blue Note albums recorded during 1965-70 with the who’s who of hard bop including such sidemen as Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Milt Jackson, Art Farmer, Donald Byril among others that he will be best remembered.
They include, Hi Voltage, Hank Mobley Sextet, Jazz message of Hank Mobley, Soul Station, Roll Call, Workout, Another Workout, Far Away Bands, Reach Out, The Flip, No Room For Squats, The Turn Around. The list is endless.
Tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley recorded quite frequently for Blue Note in the ‘60s’ and although over-shadowed by the flashier and more avant-garde players, Mobley’s output was consistently rewarding. For his overlooked sessions, which was not issued until 1980 and has yet to resurface on CD, a regular contingent of top Blue note artists including Mobley are joined by guitarist Sonny Greenwich. The result is Third Season.
The music is mostly in the hard bop vein, with hints of modality and the gospellish piece, Give Me that Feeling. But Greenwich’s three solos are a bonus, and the performances of five Mobley originals and one by Morgan are up to the usual calibre of Blue Notes.
However, a slice of the top is one of the tenor saxophonists more intriguing sessions, for the talented composer had an opportunity to have four of his originals plus the standard, There is a Lull in My Life performances by an octet in the cool toned style of Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool nomet arranged by Duke Pearson. Although, recorded in 1966, this work was not released until 1979 and unfortunately has not yet been released on CD.
Mobley, who continued to evolve into a more advanced player throughout the 1960s, fits right in with such adventurers players as altoist James Spaulding, trumpeter Lee Morgan with whom Mobley recorded frequently, pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Reggie Workman, and drummer Billy Higgins.
All of Mobleys Blue Note recordings are recommended for his harmonically advanced, tricky, yet originals, in addition to consistently brilliant soloing from some of the top mainstream players of the era. These albums, especially Dippin helped define the Blue Note sound of the 1960s. For this date, a straight CD released of the original LP, Mobley, trumpeter Lee Morgan, pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Larry Rilley and drummer Billy Higgins performed four of the tenorman’s originals, the highly appealing Ricardo Bossa Nova and the standard ballad, I see you face before me.

Henry “Hank” Mobley was born on the seventh of July 1930, in Eastman, Georgia, but grew up mostly in Elisabeth, New Jersey. He played piano as a child, but switched to saxophone at 16, playing alto for a while, then settling on the tenor. He soon turned professional, working with pianist Pay Gaytens R & B band, based in Newark. By this time, he was also playing baritone and was already recognised as a fine composer and arranger.
After recording a dozen tracks with Gayten, he left in 1951, to take a job with the house band at a local nightclub. Amongst the touring stars he backed was prophetically, Davies.
Over the next couple of years, Mobley worked with many established and up-coming figures, but spent most of 1954 with Dizzy Gillespie. By the time of his last recording with Gillespte in September 1954, he was preparing to join pianist Horace Silver’s new quintet for an engagement at Minton’s. Soon after, Silver was asked to put together a quintet for a Blue Note session, and brought in Kenny Dorham and Art Blakey to join Mobley and Dug Watkins from the Minton’s group. They first went to the studio and cut Room 608, Creepin In, Doodlin, and Stop Time, and then four others including the Preacher. Initially issued under the banner of the Horace Silver quintet, all eight would eventually appear on LP under the title…and the Jazz Messengers, an album widely regarded as a canonical document in the genesis of hard bop.

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