Hank Mobley: Hank Mobley (On Wax)
Blue Note / Music Matters
Since round about fall 2007, Music Matters has been in the business of releasing classic Blue Note records from the 1950s and 1960s, many currently unavailable on CD, on 180-gram vinyl pressings made at 45-rpm (necessitating a two-disk format). The idea is to provide jazz enthusiasts with archival-quality editions of these historic and musically vital sessions. They include a renewed focus on the visual through exquisitely crafted, heavy-duty gatefold album covers that preserve the original artwork and add new session photosprinted on acid-free photo paperon the inside fold.
All this may sound like simple indulgenceand in a way it is. But there is little doubt that vinyl presents a sound distinct from digital. And while the argument may forever rage over whether that distinction is superior to the sound on CD, the Music Matters pressings tilt the scale decidedly in favor of the wax (at least when cut with this kind of supreme care at 45-rpm).
Tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley's self-titled 1958 release is a fine example of what you can expect. (In fact, as a mono recording, it may offer the least you can expect. Ron Rambach and his crew at Music Matters claim the sound of the later Blue Note stereo recordings is rendered beyond compare through their production process.) For starters, this Mobley album is currently available on CD only as a Japanese import. Additionally, it features in trumpeter Bill Hardman and saxophonist Curtis Porter two largely unsung cats from the late 1950s. The music itself is classic hard bop, fashioned by one of the true masters of the form.
The opening track, "Mighty Moe and Joe," is a Porter original based on an almost mockish Chinese-flavored theme. But it's projected with the bright metal force you'd expect from Mobley. The vinyl difference is immediately evident in the group's full, warm sound and, particularly, in the deep lows sprung from Paul Chambers' bass. Additionally, there's a real separation between the instruments, in contrast to the sometimes antiseptic, uber-separation on CDs that emphasizes the technical over the human.
The difference in Mobley's and Porter's sound and soloing style is also immediately discernable. Porter is first up, and he slashes and dashes through a forward-looking, raspy statement that cuts into the music at halting, aggressive angles. Mobley, on the other hand, courses hills and valleys with a deep, fluid roll. Hardman's bright trumpet solo divides the two, and distinguished sideman Sonny Clark bangs in with a reliably solid run on the piano, his right hand seeming to extend beyond the speakers as it trills up to the keyboard's high end. Chambers then leads the piece back to its theme with a brief bowed-bass solo that, like Porter's statement, intimates the more contemplative post-bop approach around the musical corner.
Mobley strikes a rather forlorn mood on side two. His horn is alive and breathy on the opening solo of the ballad "Falling In Love With Love," but when it returns later in the tune, it projects from a heart decidedly more weary and desperate. Even on the driving Milt Jackson number "Bags' Groove," Mobley sounds dark and argumentative, like the misanthropic partygoer who can't stop nitpicking the hors d'oeuvres.
The second disk opens with Hardman's spirited trumpet solo on Mobley's "Double Exposure." Mobley and Porter then resume their rolling/slashing dual, backed by comping from Clark that truly sounds a couple of feet deeper in the mix. Later, Art Taylor bursts in with a solo that allows you to sense the physical range of his drum set. (The full-bodied, three-dimensional sound on this track alone might have you considering a lawsuit against the marketers who sold us on digital back in the 1980s.) The closer on side four, "News," while also acoustically resplendent, sounds a little like yesterday's story after the wildfire spit, crackle and blow of its predecessor on side three. Nevertheless, the album as a whole embodies a musical indulgence that never felt so essential.
Tracks: Disc One: Mighty Moe And Joe; Falling In Love With Love; Bags' Groove. Disc Two: Double Exposure; News.
Personnel: Bill Hardman: trumpet; Curtis Porter: alto and tenor sax; Hank Mobley: tenor sax; Sonny Clark: piano; Paul Chambers: bass; Art Taylor: drums.