Hank Mobley – Mobley’s Message – Prestige LP 7061/ Analogue Productions CPRJ 7061 SA – Mono SACD (1956), 41:58 – (mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
(Hank Mobley, tenor sax; Donald Byrd, trumpet; Jackie McLean, alto sax; Barry Harris, piano; Doug Watkins, bass; Art Taylor, drums)
When Mobley’s Message was released in 1956, Hank Mobley had just turned 26 years old. It was his fifth recording as a leader that started 14 months earlier in March 1955, when Blue Note (which was to become his major label) issued The Hank Mobley Quartet. That album was followed in rapid succession in the following year by albums for Prestige, Savoy, and New Jazz. By 1957, Hank was fully established at Blue Note, where he was very prolific both as a leader and a first choice sideman for the super star line-up that Alfred Lion featured during the 1957-1965 golden age period of Blue Note.
Mobley’s tone was referred to as “middle weight,” between the aggressive, assertive timbre of Rollins and Coltrane and the lighter feathery presentation of Lester Young and Stan Getz. Hank had the funky hard bop tone, pleasing creative phrasing, and snappy song-writing ability that endeared him to both schools of tenor sax playing. He could blow both hard and sweet with the gospel overtones that made him a hard bop stalwart. He has never fully received the stature of a tenor titan, but fans of hard bop have a special place in their heart for Mobley’s swing and dependability. His sessions with Lee Morgan have legendary status, but his later career decline took a little luster off his place in the tenor sax hierarchy of the golden age of jazz.
In the mid-50s to early 60s, Prestige Records was well known to issue many jam session albums with super-star line-ups, providing little rehearsal time, content to let their roster turn out five to eight tracks with head arrangements done over just a few days, in contrast to Alfred Lion’s Blue Note, who valued (and paid for) a more polished production with creative input from Alfred. Each succeeded for different reasons – and Prestige relied on producer Bob Weinstock, and recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder, to set up the proper conditions for the artists to get down tracks rapidly.
In 1956, hard bop was just beginning to emerge from the East Coast, and straight bop was still the current vogue. At the time of this recording, Hank Mobley had concluded his brief tenure with Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, and Horace Silver. Silver’s group morphed into the Jazz Messengers with Art Blakey taking over leadership for many decades. Though only 26 years old, Hank was ready to take on the mantle of a group leader, and having the backing of a front line of Byrd and McLean certainly made the task easier.
Recorded as a quartet (with Mobley the sole horn on “Little Girl Blue”), a quintet on four tracks backed by Donald Byrd, and a sextet with Jackie McLean’s alto sax on Bird’s “Au Privave,” Mobley had all bases covered.
Song selection is a mixture of bop standards, Bud Powell’s “Bouncin’ with Bud” and Monk’s “52nd Street Theme” combined with Hank’s “Minor Disturbance” and “Alternating Current.”
The mono acoustics, enhanced by Kevin Gray, are superlative with each instrument crystalline clear, well mixed, and bright and crisp. Barry Harris, who thankfully is still with us, gets lot of featured time and shows his early influence from Bud Powell. Bassist Doug Watkins, and drummer Art Taylor are as dependable as ever, content to set the stage for the horns to freely blow.
Mobley shows a maturity and improvisation ability rare for someone in his mid-20s. Although available for many years on LP and red book CD, this SACD issue of Mobley’s Message, with its in-room presence on pristine SACD, well mixed, makes the extra investment well worth it for hard bop collectors and Hank Mobley completists.
TrackList: Bouncin’ with Bud, 52nd Street Theme, Minor Disturbance, Au Privave, Little Girl Blue, Alternating Current