Tuesday, May 22, 2012

CD Review: Hank Mobley - Newark 1953

Hank Mobley
Newark 1953
(Uptown) www.uptownrecords.net

Let us take a moment to figure out where the pioneers of bebop were at the time of this recording and where this cast of musicians was coming from - and where they were headed. Charlie Parker still walked the earth in 1953, and four months prior to the concert, he played at Toronto's Massey Hall in what would later be considered (at least in one reissue) the greatest jazz concert ever. Bird's worthy constituent at the performance (if you've heard the album, you get the reference) Dizzy Gillespie would hire Hank Mobley a year later for his quintet, along with drummer Charli Persip (who still had the "e" at the end of his first name).

That same year Hank Mobley and pianist Walter Davis, Jr. had recorded with Max Roach on Debut (which first released the Massey Hall show) and the tenor saxophonist was often touring with rhythm and blues bands. Which means that he was on a fast track at that time of this recording, less than two years away from joining Horace Silver in what would later become the Jazz Messengers.

Newark's Picadilly Club was were this double-disc set was recorded, on a Monday night no less. Comedian Redd Foxx booked the band (Mobley, Davis, Persip and bassist Jimmy Schenck), who would bring in a touring soloist to join them each week. On September 28, that guest came in the form of trombonist Bennie Green, who would also go on to record for Blue Note, as well as several other labels.

Being a club date, the musicians stretch in their solos without worrying about the length of the tune, a rarity of course on records but also on the few live recordings made at that time. The two sets last just a few minutes under an hour, and they play five and six pieces respectively. In "Pennies from Heaven," something of a show piece for Green, the quintet goes on for a full 16 minutes, none of it excessive. In fact the only bit of excess on the whole set is the perpetual goading from either the m.c. (not Foxx, according to the notes) or an audience member, who regularly yells, "Blowblowblow," or quotes a Mobley phrase back to him, mid-solo. As far as sound quality goes, the disc is pretty solid. The horns come through loud and clear, while Davis and Schenck require some leaning in to the speakers to fully pick up on what they're doing.

Mobley's reputation seems to get stronger and stronger with each passing year (which wasn't the case during his lifetime), and it's clear in these sessions that even if he didn't have the wind power to create a tone on the level of Sonny Rollins, he possessed an amazing mind, capable of executing long, fully-developed lines in his solos. At the time, putting quotes into solos was de riguer and he goes whole hog in Gillespie's "Ow," throwing in "Irish Washerwoman" and a brilliant wedge of "Tico Tico" in the middle eight. When Green finally hands over the spotlight to him in "Pennies from Heaven," the tenor saxophonist blows with a rare aggression, as if he's been chomping at the bit as he waited his turn.

Green puts on a strong showing as well, combining a smoothness that comes out of a swing past which he combines with bop ideas that players like J.J. Johnson were patenting at the time. Speaking of swing, Persip definitely drives the band, but its interesting to hear his heavy emphasis on a straight 4/4, which is also close to a swing drummer rather than what was coming down the pike from the likes of Blakey and Roach. (Persip would soon quit this gig to join Gillespie, later bringing Mobley and, two years later Davis, with him.)

Uptown as usual includes a thick booklet with this album, loaded with photos, many of them covers of albums that featured the players, as well as promo shots of the artists from later in their careers. Some of the LPs are interesting, like the Joe Gordon album on EmArcy which features the unsung Schenck's face. But other more common covers, as well as a page of matchboxes from other Newark clubs, seems like filler.

No matter, because the music is historically significant and sonically hot.

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