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Although recorded 14 years before he died, 1972's Breakthrough was one of the final recordings the lamentably under-appreciated tenor great Hank Mobley made (he also guested on a 1980 Tete Montoliu record). Mobley, an especially lyrical and melodic tenor titan, had recorded prolifically - and consistently well between 1955 and 1970, mostly (and most substantially) for Blue Note. But health and financial problems severely curtailed his playing during the last decade and a half of his life.
Mobley had just returned from short stay in Paris when he began briefly co-leading this group with pianist Cedar Walton. Mobley and Walton had worked together before on the tenor's 1967 dates, Third Season and Far Away Lands, finding a successful simpatico together. Unfortunately, their 1972 partnership didn't last long and it never had the chance to ascend the heights reached by Walton shortly thereafter with Magic Triangle or Eastern Rebellion. But this one surviving document promised much greatness that never ultimately materialized.
Breaktrhough is a solid, effective hard bop date. But it seems too dependant and dominated by equally underrated baritone/soprano sax man Charles Davis. Nothing wrong with that. But Mobley seems too much a sideman here, briefly coming to the fore on "Early Morning Stroll" (where he and Davis finally gel) and especially well-suited to "Summertime."
Mobley's title piece has the familiar feel of those loose, Prestige bop jams of the 1950s. Everybody solos, but Davis is considerably dominant. Jobim's "Sabia" drops Mobley for a pleasant samba that spotlights Davis and features Walton on electric piano. Walton's wonderful "House on Maple Street," shifts Davis to soprano, brings Mobley back and, in an especially nice touch, catches Walton punctuating on electric piano like an African kalimba. Finally, the "Love Story" theme returns Walton to acoustic piano for trio jazz that's executed with greater style than this sappy theme has ever displayed elsewhere.
It's hard to fault bop when it's this good, with musicians in the league of Walton, Davis and Mobley. As the swan song it ended up becoming for Mobley, though, Breakthrough is just not enough.
Tracks:Brakthrough; Sabia; House On Maple Street; Theme From Love Story; Summertime; Early Morning Stroll.
Players:Cedar Walton: piano, electric piano; Hank Mobley: tenor sax; Charles Davis: britone sax, soprano sax; Sam Jones: bass; Billy Higgins: drums.
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