HANK MOBLEY: ‘Quintet’ and ‘Peckin’ Time’ (Label: Blue Note)

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HANK MOBLEY: 'Quintet' and 'Peckin' Time'

Up till now, Blue Note hasn’t paid much attention to Hank Mobley’s ’50s output in its RVG reissue programme – now, thankfully, master engineer Rudy Van Gelder has righted that wrong by turning his attention to a couple of titles from the second half of the ’50s by the great tenor saxophonist. ‘Quintet,’ recorded in 1957 – and only previously available on CD in Japan and as part of an expensive, limited edition 6-CD box set on Mosaic – was Mobley’s third album for the now legendary record company set up by German Jewish émigrés Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff in New York in 1939. At the time, Mobley was only 27 and had just finished a stint with the Jazz Messengers – but even at a relatively tender age in jazz terms, he had already established himself as a composer of memorable original tunes. Interestingly, ‘Quintet’ reunited Mobley with some of his Jazz Messengers cohorts – namely, drummer Art Blakey, pianist Horace Silver, trumpeter Art Farmer and bassist Doug Watkins – and features six self-penned tunes. The opener, ‘Funk In Deep Freeze,’ is rightly considered a hard bop classic, featuring splendid solos from Mobley, Farmer and Silver, and tight yet intuitive ensemble work. Art Blakey’s propulsive drums – packed with his trademark press rolls, which add dramatic tension – give a tangible sense of drive to the rhythm section. As well as some fine uptempo numbers (‘Wham & They’re Off,’ and ‘Stella-Wise’) Mobley also shows what an accomplished and sensitive balladeer he is on the slow and mesmeric ‘Fin De L’Affaire’ and the late-night blues-inflected groove, ‘Base On Balls.’ This new RVG remaster includes two alternate takes from the session. You’ll also discover a couple of outtakes on the RVG reissue of ‘Peckin’ Time,’ a 1958 Mobley album that was first reissued on CD in 1988 and which never went out of print. This new remaster, however, as you’d expect, has a vastly improved sound quality. Trumpeter Lee Morgan shares the front line duties with Mobley, while two members of Miles Davis’s then band, pianist Wynton Kelly and bassist Paul Chambers – along with drummer, Charlie Persip – complete the quintet. The jaunty opener, ‘High And Flighty’ is a splendid piece of late-’50s hard bop – the pace is furious, with Mobley blowing his sax as if his life depended on it. Even on a piece taken at breakneck speed, there’s a wonderfully-rounded smoothness and elegance to Mobley’s playing that distinguished him from his peers (it was also the reason, though, that some jazz critics tended to devalue Mobley’s style at the expense of fellow tenor titans like Coltrane and Rollins). Lee Morgan – always a sympathetic foil to Mobley – is in top form alongside the saxophonist, blowing lines of breathtaking brilliance. The highlights include a fabulous version of Kurt Weill’s ‘Speak Low,’ which begins with a Latin beat before morphing into a cool, straight ahead swinger. The whole album’s absolutely stupendous and in terms of its constituent performances is slightly superior to the 1957 ‘Quintet’ LP. But for fans of classic ’50s hard bop, both sets are utterly essential.
(CW) 5/5