Our "Unsung Recordings" section is designed to give you a sense of some of the best recordings of an "Unsung Hero." Here are two of Hank Mobley's greatest - and one of his most intriguing:
(Blue Note RVG Edition 7243 4 95343 2 2)
Rudy Van Gelder made it sound great in 1960, and he has made it sound even better now. Soul Station is a set of four Mobley originals and two standards that should be recognized as one of the all-time greatest jazz albums. This outstanding remastering should help. Mobley is joined by pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, and, on the drums, Abdullah Ibn Buhaina himself, Mr. Art Blakey. Blakey is on fire here, and Mobley is in complete command, gliding through Irving Berlin's "Remember" with a grace unsurpassed among jazz tenormen. But his own originals are up to the same level. "This I Dig of You" is a cousin of Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" and offers Kelly and Mobley a chance to dance with elegance and geniality. "Dig Dis" and "Soul Station" raise the temperature, but Mobley never breaks a sweat. This is his greatest record, and it shows off his strengths to great effect: graceful ease in virtuosity, a great command of harmony, and an endless flow of improvisational ideas.
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Mobley in some of his best company: guitarist Grant Green, pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones. Each of these men made dozens of recordings like this one, and in their day they were little noted except as a payday for the musicians and a momentary showcase for their fans to enjoy. But from the standpoint of forty years in the future we can see the high level of mastery these musicians had achieved. Mobley is his mellow-toned self, and he finds a perfect partner in Green, whose electrically-charged lines take Mobley's quiet fire and run with it. Green glows particularly brightly on "Workout," while on the jaunty "Uh Huh" Mobley takes chorus after chorus with a subtle buildup of intensity that reveals him to be a past master of architectonics. And the rhythm section! Philly Joe hasn't lost a step here, and indeed commands more attention than on his dates with Miles. This one was all in a day's work, but what a day! A tour de force. A masterpiece.
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By 1968, when this sextet date was recorded, the sweet mainstream jazz Hank Mobley loved and championed was on the defensive. This post-Lion Blue Note recording goes even farther than the gutbucket r & b that Lee Morgan was purveying in kowtowing to the rock and roll emperor: Mobley includes two pallid covers of contemporary soul hits, "Reach Out (I'll Be There)" and "Goin' Out of My Head." Neither capture the burning dynamism of the originals, and the former veers perilously close to being a vapid supermarket instrumental - especially during George Benson's dispirited guitar solo. But on Mobley's originals, particularly the marvelous "Lookin' East," he plays with his customary languorous beauty, and trumpeter Woody Shaw contributes his own pure crystalline tone. Discs like this failed in their intention - to recapture an audience for jazz in its worst crisis - and are poignant in their documentation of fine artists searching for a viable direction. This disc is the tragedy of Hank Mobley in miniature.