Much has been written lately regarding the unfortunate obscurity of tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley. Now mind you, he left behind a substantial catalog, unlike a Herbie Nichols or Tina Brooks. However, he always seemed to be overshadowed by more overt players, such as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Time, of course, has a way of rectifying these situations and Mobley has been well represented over the past few years by a string of Blue Note reissues. These discs though have largely come from Mobley's output from the '60s. This makes Mosaic's new collection of his '50s work a very fortuitous event, allowing one to now have the ability to collect virtually every Blue Note date the tenor man ever cut!
With many of these sessions appearing on compact disc for the first time, Mosaic's new 6CD/10LP boxed set spans the years 1955-1958 and includes the original albums The Hank Mobley Quartet, Hank Mobley Sextet, Hank Mobley & His All-Stars, Hank Mobley Quintet, Hank, Hank Mobley, Curtain Call, Poppin', and Peckin' Time. As customary for Mosaic, this handsome 12 x 12 package includes a 16-page booklet with a large number of Frank Wolff photos from the original sessions, a session-by-session commentary provided by noted expert Bob Blumenthal, and a digital remastering job that gives the music its best presentation yet on any format.
The first session from March of 1955 takes on a Jazz Messengers focus, due in no small part to the personnel that includes Horace Silver and Art Blakey. This is sprightly bebop with Mobley proving that he could handle the changes just about as well as any other tenor man around at the time. His composition gifts were also just starting to bud, with the memorable "Avila and Tequila" just one of many highlights.
It would be almost another two years until Mobley would enter the Van Gelder studios again for an added session as a leader. The events from November of 1956 have been simultaneously known as The Hank Mobley Sextet and Hank Mobley with Donald Byrd and Lee Morgan. Two trumpets and a tenor is not your typical front line, yet it gives Mobley a chance to develop some fine writing for the three men.
With a shorter gap between sessions, we get the January 1957 date that was documented as Hank Mobley and His All-Stars. This is surely one of the saxophonist's early triumphs, due in no small way to the company he kept, including Milt Jackson, Horace Silver, Doug Watkins, and Art Blakey. Five Mobley originals are chock full of interesting chord changes and structures that provide ample fodder for everyone involved. "Mobley's Musings" contains one of the tenorist's best ballad performances and one that commentator Blumenthal states "can stand against the vulnerable beauty of Stan Getz as well as the best of his fellow hard-boppers."
For the first time since his Blue Note debut, Mobley opts for the conventional trumpet-tenor front line for the March 1957 session that follows. Art Farmer is added to the by now familiar rhythm section of Silver, Watkins, and Blakey. The Mobley opus "Funk in Deep Freeze" kicks things off with a bang and this memorable line would soon become a standard, even being covered in the '70s by Chet Baker!
The next two sessions, from April and May of 1957, would opt for a larger ensemble augmented by a second saxophone. The rhythm sections would also take on a newer outlook with such youngsters as Sonny Clark, Bobby Timmons, Art Taylor, and Wibur Ware on board. More sublime Mobley is heard to be sure, along with further examples of his compositional artistry. And not only was his music hip, but his titles are small literary wonders in themselves. Just get a load of such monikers here as "Fit For a Hanker", "Hi Groove, Low Feedback", and "Mighty Moe and Joe".
Blue Note producer Alfred Lion was known as being a stickler for tight ensembles and inspired performances and over the span of the label's golden years a number of unissued sessions amassed in the vaults. Dates from August and October of '57 come from this category, first seeing the light of day as Japanese issues way after the fact. Curtain Call finds Mobley in the company of his fellow Messenger Kenny Dorham, while Poppin' reunites Mobley with Art Farmer and adds baritone legend Pepper Adams. Both are valuable for the additional glimpses they give us of the legendary pianist Sonny Clark, however it's the latter one that contains the lion's share of incendiary moments and glimpses of pure genius (of course, drummer Philly Joe Jones can take some of the credit for that).
Finally, we come to 1958's Peckin' Time, Mobley's last significant session of the '50s and final recording for Blue Note before his return to the label some two years later. Clearly there was a change in the air. Mobley's writing had become more complex and less bebop oriented. His own playing had also matured and he was now more conscious of telling a story with a warm and an inviting sound than engaging in pyrotechnic displays. Trumpeter Lee Morgan and the crack rhythm section of Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Charlie Persip also give us a glimpse of what would make each of them valuable jazzmen in their own right in the years to follow.
Taken as a whole, this set gives us 56 potent performances, including 9 alternate takes, that testify as to the genuine talent of Hank Mobley. Much has already been said in regard to such classics as No Room for Squares, A Slice of the Top, and The Turnaround. Here's hoping that Mosaic's new offering will get the conversation flowing in regards to Mobley's earlier glories! Remember however, this and all of Mosaic's sets are only available from Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, Connecticut, 06902. You can also order on-line by visiting www.mosiacrecords.com.