Leonard Feather once hailed Hank Mobley as "the middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone." Mobley was better than that. An exquisite soul messenger, Mobley was criticized for not being as aggressive, voluminous, or trailblazing as his contemporaries. Indeed, he was not. Instead, his music was steeped in care, precision and nuances. In Mobley's hands, such treatment often dazzled, as on his latest Blue Note reissue, The Flip
Recorded in 1969 at Studio Barclay in Paris, this album would be Mobley's second to last for the label. He's supported by an excellent crew of international musicians, including Dizzy Reece on trumpet, Slide Hampton on trombone, Vince Benedetti on piano, Alby Cullaz on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums. All the tunes on The Flip were composed by Mobley and are built around his strengths of soul, swing, and subtlety. Listen to the opening statements of the title track, the punch of the horns, the dance of the rhythm section, the sheer joy of it all. It's a vicious groove by all accounts, as the members revel in this boogaloo scene.
Now, when compared to the melodic thoughts of "Feelin' Folksy," you begin to understand Mobley's worth. The ease of his lines, the effortless flow of ideas, harmony and rhythm is never brute, forceful, or shrieking. Further proofs are in all the compositions on The Flip. The charms do not end with Mobley, either. Hampton's trombone wailings are often clever and valuable throughout the album. Check out Reece's trumpet solos on "Snappin' Out," and "18th Hole." Jones, as always, is beyond compliments. The true surprise on this album is the pianist, Benedetti. His accompaniments are in excellent taste, as are those of Cullaz.
True, this album and its composer will never be within the ranks of the most influential, the most revered, or even the most downloaded. Fine. Besides, as a provocateur of beauty, Mobley is in a class all his own.
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This review first appeared in All About Jazz: Los Angeles .