For more than three decades, Hank Mobley was regarded by the bulk of the jazz-listening public as a journeyman of the hard-bop idiom, one of a dozen or so competent tenor saxophonists who toured clubs, filled out various recording bands and cut the occasional side under their own names. But since Mobley's death in 1986 (he was only 56), critics, listeners and, most telling, fellow musicians (including some younger ones) have been reassessing Mobley's work. What many say now is that he was an original on the order of, say, Joe Henderson or Wayne Shorter and that most folks failed to hear the truth the first time around.
Certainly, two Blue Note reissues, No Room for Squares, recorded in 1963, and The Turnaround, with cuts from 1963 and 1965, confirm the notion that Mobley was sinfully underrated in the heat of an era when two tenor giants, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, commanded most of the attention. Mobley's "round sound" and careful phrasing were not to Miles Davis's liking when Mobley served a stint with the demanding trumpeter in 1960-61, but these impeccable recordings, featuring a total of nine Mobley originals, sound amazingly fresh and forward-looking. No wonder some of the best young jazzmen on the planet staged a Hank Mobley tribute last year at New York's Birdland.
From the cooking intensity of the title tune on The Turnaround to the lyrical tenderness of "Carolyn" on Squares, we discover the artistry of a soloist and composer too long relegated to the shadows. Had Mobley come along in the '80s, he wouldn't have been so easily put in the second rank. Meanwhile, his assorted workmates on these vintage sessions -- trumpeters Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Donald Byrd; pianists Herbie Hancock and Andrew Hill; ex-Davis drummer Philly Joe Jones and bassists Paul Chambers, John Ore and Butch Warren -- are beyond reproach. The saxophonist is in great company with these masters, as they are with him.
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