© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Hank has also carried a liability around with him for a long time-a liability, that is, as far as commercialism is concerned: he is not easily classified. Everyone knows by now how writers on jazz like to trot out phrases like Hawkins-informed, Rollins-derived, Young-influenced and the like, and then, having formed their pigeon-hole, they proceed to drop the musician under discussion into it and fill the dirt over him. That is not easily done with Hank Mobley. He is, to be sure, associated with East coast musicians and material, but he has never had the so-called "hard bop" sound that is generally a standard part of the equipment of such tenormen.
At the same time, Charlie Parker was certainly a greater part of his playing than Lester Young, which is often enough to label a man a bopper, so what was Mobley doing? The answer is so simple as to be completely overlooked in a mass of theory, digging for influences, and the like: he was working out his own style.”
- Joe Goldberg, insert notes to Soul Station [emphasis, mine]
Continuing with my MobleyQuest [an effort to get anything of importance from the Jazz literature available on Hank posted to my blog], I am returning to individual Mobley album features, this time with a focus on Hank’s Soul Station Blue Note LP which was released on CD as 95343-2 for as Richard Cook and Brian Morton state so explicitly in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.:
“Mobley fans are divided as to whether Soul Station or Roll Call is his masterpiece, but the Rudy Van Gelder Edition of the former is a welcome reminder of how creative a player Mobley was, here transcending his normal consistency and making a modest classic. Good as the other drummers on his records are, Art Blakey brings a degree more finesse, and their interplay on This I Dig Of You is superb. Hank seldom took ballads at a crawl, preferring a kind of lazy mid-tempo, and If I Should Lose You is one of his best. Dig Dis is a top example of how tough he could sound without falling into bluster. A virtually perfect example of a routine date made immortal by master craftsmen.” [Wynton Kelly on piano and Paul Chambers on bass round out the quartet on this date].
Cook and Morton also go on to address the two main issues that critics [in the negative sense] seemed to persistently underscore throughout Mobley’s career: his tone and his style of improvising:
“Mobley's music was documented to almost unreasonable length by Blue Note, with a whole raft of albums granted to him as a leader, and countless sideman appearances to go with them. … A collectors' favourite, his assertive and swinging delivery was undercut by a seemingly reticent tone: next to his peers in the hard-bop tenor gang, he could sound almost pallid. But it shouldn't detract from appreciating a thinker and a solidly reliable player. Despite frequent personal problems, Mobley rarely gave less than his best in front of the microphones.”
As a contemporary of blustery tenor sax players such as Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Johnny Griffin, to cite only a few, Hank was wrongly condemned for using a lighter tone which allowed for a very fluid expression of ideas. Sometimes one wonders what these [negative] critics were listening to because there was so much original invention to be had in Hank’s solos.
In the following insert notes to Hank’s classic Soul Station LP, Joe Goldberg stresses another significant point that many of the critics may have missed in their all-too frequent critical assessment of his playing and that is - “He was working out his own style.”
I always thought that developing an individual voice, one that is instantly recognizable by the listener, is something that a Jazz musician strives to achieve and that Hank’s successful efforts in this regard were often overlooked.
Joe Goldberg elaborates on this point and other significant features [including how Hank’s style forms a parallel alliance with “the music of the dance”] of Hank’s playing in the following insert notes to Soul Station, Blue Note CD 95343-2.
“RECENTLY, it has become more and more incorrect to pass off a jazz record as a "blowing date" (a term, by the way, that has become at least semi-derogatory) simply Because there are only four or five musicians involved. The days of men coming into a studio and "just blowing" (a practice that only the very greatest jazzmen have ever been able to get away with) are apparently over, for the most part. At one time, you could safely assume that a forty-minute LP had taken, at most, an hour to put together. No more.
What has this to do with Hank Mobley? Quite a bit, to judge from this LP, Soul Station. On the surface, it contains all the elements of a blowing session - tenor sax and rhythm, a few originals, a couple of seldom-done standards, and a blues. But the difference is to be heard as soon as you begin to listen to the record. And let us take things in what might seem to be reverse order for a moment, and discuss the reasons for the difference before we even talk about the difference itself. Hank has always been a musician's musician - a designation that can easily become the kiss of death for the man who holds it. Fans and critics will reel off their list of tenor players, a list that is as easily changed by fashion as not, and then the musician over in the corner will say, "Yes, but have you heard Hank Mobley?" The musician saying that, in this particular case, might very well be a drummer. The groups Hank works with are often led by drummers - Art Blakey and Max Roach, to name two men who need, as they say, no introduction, and the first of whom contributes in a great degree to the success of this album.
One might suppose, considering this, that Hank is possessed or an unusual rhythmic sense, and one would be right. In a conversation I had with Art Blakey while preparing the notes for his two Blue Note LPs caned Holiday for Skins (BLP 4004-5), he was discussing the fact that while many songs are written in complex rhythms, the solos generally revert to a straight four. His reason for this was that most soloists probably could not play them any other way. "Hank Mobley could do it, though" he said. But even while possessing this definite asset, Hank has also carried a liability around with him for a long time-a liability, that is, as far as commercialism is concerned: he is not easily classified. Everyone knows by now how writers on jazz like to trot out phrases like Hawkins-informed, Rollins-derived, Young-influenced and the like, and then, having formed their pigeon-hole, they proceed to drop the musician under discussion into it and fill the dirt over him. That is not easily done with Hank Mobley. He is, to be sure, associated with East coast musicians and material, but he has never had the so-called "hard bop" sound that is generally a standard part of the equipment of such tenormen.
At the same time, Charlie Parker was certainly a greater part of his playing than Lester Young, which is often enough to label a man a bopper, so what was Mobley doing? The answer is so simple as to be completely overlooked in a mass of theory, digging for influences, and the like: he was working out his own style.
But - and here again, he suffers from a commercial liability - he did not do it in a spectacular way. He did not, in the manner of Sonny Rollins, in 1955 emerge from a long self-imposed retirement with a startling new approach. Nor did he, in the manner of John Coltrane, come almost completely unknown under the teaching influence of the great Miles Davis (for how many men has that recently been the key to success). Instead, he worked slowly and carefully, in the manner of a craftsman, building the foundations of a style, taking what he needed to take from whom he needed to take it (everyone does that, the difference between genius and hackwork is the manner in which it is done), and finally emerging, on this album, not with a disconnected series of tunes, but with a definite statement to make.
Evidence of that, to get back to the idea with which these comments began, is to be found in the care with which this set has been assembled. First of all, there are the sidemen-Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Art Blakey. To discuss Blakey again on each new record release is almost to insult him and his contribution to jazz, particularly since he says it himself very well, clearly, and with great authority in his solo on This I Dig Of You. But about Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers, for a moment. It is probably no accident that both of them are members of Miles Davis' group -I hesitate to call it a quintet or sextet, since that is so often in doubt. Miles has been famous for the superb quality of his rhythm sections as much as for any of his other contributions, and some of the ideas that started in his group or in his observance of Ahmad Jamal's group are to be found on this record. The basis of these ideas - pedal point, rhythmic suspensions, a general lightness of approach-all have their basis in one underlying idea - the best music is never very far from dance.
This concept can be found not only in Miles' work, but in the solo albums made by Coltrane, in those of Sonny Rollins, and even in the work of Thelonious Monk, who has taken to doing his own extremely expressive dance in front of his group. This is not to say that any of these men, or Hank Mobley either, "play for dancing" although whal they play is certainly more conducive to dancing than the music of Freddy Martin or Guy Lombardo but that the qualities that are essential to dance - a lightness, flow, and flexibility, all within the confines of a definite form and overall sense of a structure - are essential to their music.
The unusual sound of Mobley's tenor might very well come of this idea of dance. Jazz is rich in legends of unknown saxophonists, celebrated only in their immediate area, but having an enormous effect on men who went on to much wider acclaim. These men being small-town on-the-stand musicians, playing for dances, for the most part, have had, in all likelihood, a sound very much like the sound of Mobley's tenor, or like Coltrane's or Rollins' for that matter. And it would take a man with a knowledge of dance music to pick as fine and unlikely an old song as Irving Berlin's Remember to start his set with. (Monk, incidentally, also has a penchant for old Berlin tunes.)
I think also, that dance must be behind as charming, lightly swinging and immediately attractive a song (song is the right word here, not "tune" or "original") as Hank Mobley's composition This I Dig Of You, which brings out the best of all the musicians - Blakey's solo has been mentioned before, and I am particularly charmed by Wynton Kelly's solo, with its ever-present echoes of The Party's Over.
These ideas are present, but the four men involved are all excellent craftsmen, so the ideas do not intrude upon the music as sometimes happens with the sometimes over-self conscious Modern Jazz Quartet. You do not think of dance, or rhythmic shifts, or the changing approach to the tenor saxophone, or the old tunes, or the inevitable funky blues. You simply hear, at first, four men swinging lightly, powerfully, and with great assurance and authority. You relax, listen, and enjoy yourself. And then later, when you think about it, you realize just how much of an achievement this apparently casual LP represents. And you think with new admiration and respect about Hank Mobley, because you realize how much of that achievement he has been able to make his own.”