Hank Mobley: Another Workout
I can scarcely remember the last time an anticipated "new" release has afforded as much immediate pleasure as this one. Go with a single horn playerarguably the most melodically fertile tenor saxophonist of his timeand give him the support of a rhythm section once cherry-picked by Miles Davis. The result is not merely predictable excellence but music that's frequently as surprising as it is satisfying. You may choose to view this session as Mobley's Workout (Blue Note, 1961) minus Grant Green, but to my ears it's on the same track as the essential Soul Station (Blue Note, 1960), the only difference being the drummers: Blakey's emotive forcefulness is replaced by Philly Joe Jones' hip finesse.
Recorded in 1961, when Mobley was inarguably at the top of his game, Another Workout did not see its first release until 1985, shortly after Capitol/EMI had purchased and resurrected the Blue Note label. That such music could have been suppressed for almost 24 years is called "incomprehensible" by Michael Cuscuna in the liner notes accompanying the 1985 release and "astonishing" by Bob Blumenthal in the notes written for this new 2006 Van Gelder-remastered edition. Add to those expressions a few other choice words, like "unfortunate," "ignorant," "disgraceful," even "unforgivable."
Music of this order doesn't pass our way very often. In fact, this would be Mobley's last recording before No Room for Squares, the first session on which he would begin to sacrifice lyric inspiration and subtlety of phrasing to a harder sound and stiffer rhythmic approach as his answer to the demands of the 1960s marketplace. In other words, Another Workout is, in effect, the last opportunity to hear this quintessential player at his zenith.
The opener, "Out of Joe," is Mobley's equivalent of Neal Hefti's "Cute," the drum vehicle written to showcase Sonny Payne's skills in the Count Basie Orchestra. But rather than serve as a mere display piece for the drummer, it features the tenor player and percussionist engaged in an intricate conversation, or dance, each responding to and elaborating on the cues supplied by the other.
Although an unapologetic, romantic "singer" on the horn, Mobley is also all about making musical sense, and he's the last player to dress up or milk a sound. Nevertheless, his melodic inventiveness on the ballad "I Should Care" cannot detract from the sheer beauty of his tone. Warm, musky, complex, with the hint of a butterscotch flavor but steeped in the blues, Mobley's sound is not only inimitable but addictive and habit- forming, incapable of wearing out its welcome.
The highlight of the session is the leader's solo on the next tune, "Gettin' and Jettin'," an up-tempo original composed of 24 bars of G minor, with an eight-bar major bridge. Despite the limited chords and fast tempo, Mobley spins out eight luminous choruses of dazzling variety and nuance, characterized by compositional definitiveness and wholeness. "Hank's Other Soul" has more Mobley motivic magic, while "Hello Young Lovers" taps a vein of irrepressible lyricism.
The man rarely resorts to a cliche or prepared lick. No musician in my experience listens so intently to his own discourse and makes quicker decisions, responding to each musical question with an answer or another question sharpening the focus of the first. On the rare occasions when he's stuck, he'll repeat the same note 4-5 times rather than resort to a formulaic phrase. He's the equivalent of the writer who doesn't know what he thinks until he starts to write it down. All the more wonder, then, that the final result resembles a perfect, polished draft rather than an exploratory piece.
Cuscuna's notes, included in this edition, are more reflective of what's on the record than the new commentary by Blumenthal. The latter provides interesting information about the recording's history, but I would regard suspiciously his suggestion that Wynton Kelly is not playing up to speed, or that Mobley's playing on a couple of the tunes doesn't measure up to some of his later recordings. It's probably best to stop reading at this point and save the extra time for experiencing this uncompromising and incomparable music.
Tracks: Out of Joe's Bag; I Should Care; Gettin' and Jettin'; Hank's Other Soul; Hello Young Lovers.
Personnel: Hank Mobley: tenor saxophone; Wynton Kelly: piano; Paul Chambers: bass; Philly Joe Jones: drums.