I'm one of those listeners so addicted to the blues-drenched, butterscotch-smooth sound of Hank Mobley's tenor that I can scarcely last a week without playing one of his recordings. The newly reissued Hi Voltage
, unfortunately, turns out to be a negligible session by the "middleweight champion" of the tenor saxophone.
When the recording was made in the late sixties, the lyrical style associated with Mobley was falling out of favor, so he elected to try for a "harder and hipper" ensemble sound, suggestive of the Jazz Crusaders or Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil.
The problem is that the extra horns (Blue Mitchell and Jackie McLean) drastically limit Mobley's solo time, and the all-original program includes none of the leader's best compositional efforts. With the exception of "No Goodbyes"a subtle, nuanced balladthe tunes are forgettable, spare heads and blues-based riffs. "Advance Notion" features an inventive variation on a simple idea along with solid contributions by all the principals. But the remaining tunes are played over funk/rock rhythms and end with engineered fade-outs (a sure sign of flagging compositional inspiration). The sum result is pretty much a "period piece" of little artistic consequence and, sadly, most likely of little profit to the underappreciated tenor giant.
Several years after this date I caught Mobley live with Gene Ammons at the Brown Shoe in Chicago. He was so disoriented and incoherent (he had reportedly lost two horns and was playing on a borrowed instrument held together by string) that we could only breathe a collective sigh of relief when Jug mercifully ushered him off stage and finished the set as the sole tenor. This late Blue Note recording session, despite demonstrating that Mobley's chops were still intact, reflects the beginning of his increasingly desperate attempts to find an audience before becoming a non-factor by the mid-seventies.
To hear why Mobley is one of the most melodically inventive and least formulaic improvisers (and check out that unforced, inimitable sound!), start with earlier Blue Note discs such as Soul Station and Work Out. Or listen to the Miles Davis Blackhawk set on Columbia. The man had so much to offer, and on his best recordings he's not afraid to let it all hang out.
Personnel: Hank Mobley, tenor saxophone; Jackie McLean, alto saxophone; Blue Mitchell, trumpet; John Hicks,
piano; Bob Cranshaw, bass; Billy Higgins, drums.