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Hank Mobley: The Complete Blue Note Hank Mobley 50s Sessions

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illustration of Hank Mobley

In the mid ’50s, Hank Mobley’s stature was roughly equivalent to that of John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. The three tenor saxophonists were members of era-defining ensembles (the Jazz Messengers, the Miles Davis Quintet, and Brown-Roach, Inc., respectively), distinctive stylists making the transition to being leaders in their own right. By the early ’60s, however, Mobley was eclipsed by the others, his rising star seemingly stalled. Consequently Mobley has been relegated to a relatively minor place in history, even though he was a, principal force in the hard bop movement from its inception in the mid ’50s to its autumnal glory of the mid to late ’60s. The 6-CD The Complete Blue Note Hank Mobley Sessions makes an excellent case for upgrading Mobley’s status.

To an extent, this collection, which documents the sessions resulting in Mobley’s first nine albums as a leader (starting with The Hank Mobley Quartet, a ’55 outing with the original Messengers section of Horace Silver, Doug Watkins, and Art Blakey, and ending with Peckin’ Time, an early ’58 date with Lee Morgan, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Charlie Persip), confirms the conventional wisdom: as a saxophonist, Mobley lacked Coltrane’s questing fervor and Rollins’ trenchancy. However, Mobley’s solos are consistently inventive and exciting; they are well designed and even tempered, never exhibiting the seemingly agitated rush of ideas and erratically soldered tangents that occasionally cropped up in Coltrane’s and Rollins’ work, respectively (even a tune called “Mobleymania” from ’56’s Hank Mobley Sextet with Donald Byrd, Morgan, Silver, Paul Chambers, and Persip, exemplified Mobley’s trademark straight-up ebullience). Mobley did not employ his contemporaries’ hard-edged sound-harsh, according to many critics-favoring a self-described “round” sound that conveyed both muscularity and agility in blowing vehicles, and great tenderness on ballads (“Deep In A Dream” is the case-in-point for Mobley’s prowess with ballads; it was waxed for Curtain Call, a ’57 session with Kenny Dorham, Sonny Clark, Jimmy Rowser, and Art Taylor). And, arguably, Mobley could toss off quotes with a more offhanded facility (check out “Startin’ From Scratch,” from ’57’s Hank Mobley Quintet with Art Farmer, Silver, Watkins, and Blakey).

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