CULT CLASSIC: HANK MOBLEY-SOUL STATION.

Cult Classic: Hank Mobley-Soul Station.

It was Leonard Feather, the British-born jazz pianist, composer, producer and music writer who described Hank Mobley as the: “middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone.” This metaphor made sense to critics and connoisseurs of jazz. 

His tone was neither as aggressive as John Coltrane nor as melodic as Stan Getz. Instead, it had a laidback, languid sound that was subtle and melodic. Especially when compared to the likes of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Despite his undeniable talent, Hank Mobley never seemed to get the credit he deserved. 

Sadly, Hank Mobley is still one of the most the underrated jazz musicians. Especially those who came prominence during the bop era. 

Hank Mobley signed was still twenty-four when he recorded his first session for Blue Note Records on the ‘27th’ of March 1955. That day he recorded the album that became Hank Mobley Quartet which was released in October 1955. He had come a long way in a short space of time. 

Musically, Hank Mobley was a late starter, and first  picked up a saxophone was when he was sixteen, and suffering from an illness that meant he had to stay at home for several months. By then, he was living in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and was finding that the days were long and  he needed something to pass the time. That was why his grandmother decided to buy her grandson a saxophone. It passed the time as Hank Mobley recuperated, and also transformed his life. 

Eight years later, Hank Mobley had signed to Blue Note Records where he would spend the majority of his career. He eventually recorded and released twenty-six albums for jazz’s premier label between 1955 and 1972. This includes one of his classic albums Soul Station which were released by Blue Note Records in October 1960. It was the tenth album that Hank Mobley had recorded for Blue Note Records.

The Soul Station session took place at the Van Gelder Studio, in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. It was a quartet recording with drummer Art Blakey, bassist Paul Chambers and pianist Wynton Kelly joining the twenty-nine year old bandleader, composer and tenor saxophonist. As usual, Alfred Lion who took charge of production which were recorded by Rudy Van Gelder.

That day, six tracks were recorded. This included covers  two standards, Irving Berlin’s Remember and If I Should Lose You which written by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin. They were joined by This I Dig Of You, Dig Dis, Split Feelin’s and Soul Station which were Hank Mobley compositions. The six tracks were recorded during the one-day session and the release was scheduled for later in 1960.

When Soul Station was released in early October 1960, critics heaped praise on the future hard bop classic calling it Hank Mobley’s finest album. Some critics went further and said it was one of the finest albums released by Blue Note Records during the hard bop era. This was high praise indeed.

Soul Station opens with the standard Remember, which was a favourite of American dance bands during the classic jazz age. Hank Mobley pays homage to this era. His sultry tenor saxophone is to the fore and carries the simple melody above the finger clicking groove before enjoying opportunity to improvise. By then the arrangement is swinging. However, Wynton Kelly’s piano playing is subtle, understated and he resists the urge to innovate. Instead, the band to the script during this quite beautiful and captivating cover of this much-loved standard that sashays along before reaching a crescendo. In doing so, this sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

Very different This I Dig of You which epitomises everything that’s good about hard bop. Each member of the band plays their part in the sound and success of the track. Especially pianist Wynton Kelly who opens the track and is joined by Hank Mobley as the rest of rhythm section drive and power the arrangement along. Meanwhile, slinky sounding piano plays and later, Art Blakey unleashes a thunderous solo before hissing hi-hats signalling the return of the sultry sounding saxophone which soars above the arrangement to impressive hard driving track.

The tempo drops on Dig Dis where Wynton Kelly’s piano takes centrestage as the rhythm section accompany him. Their playing is understated even when Hank Mobley’s tenor saxophone enters and soars above the piano. It’s everpresent and gets another chance to shine when the saxophone drops out. Soon, though the  baton passes to the smooth souding tenor saxophone which continues to play a starring role. However, just like the previous tracks Wynton Kelly’s contribution is crucial and it would be a poorer track without it.

From the opening bars of Split Feelin’s there’ no stopping the band as they move through the gears on this uptempo track with a Latin-tinged groove. Soon, they’re sitting in the fast lane and are being driven along by rhythm section. Paul Chambers plucks his bass firmly and deliberately while Art Blakey powers the arrangement along and later unleashes a thunderous solo that’s one of his best on the album. Not to be outdone, Wynton Kelly’s hands dance across and sometimes  jab and stab the keyboard. Meanwhile, Hank Mobley plays with speed, fluidity, power, passion and fluidity on what’s one of the album’s highlights.

Another highlight of Soul Station is the title-track. Here, the band is at their tightest as they play a lowdown bluesy groove. At its heart is Wynton Kelly’s piano playing and somehow he reaches new heights. Meanwhile Paul Chambers unleashes a peerless solo while Art Blakey’s playing is much more understated. Hank Mobley’s playing is smooth, melodic and he plays within himself always in control on a track that features this all-star band at their very best.

Bookending Soul Station is the other standard, If I Should Lose You. Just like the opening track Remember, Hank Mobley looks back to the jazz’s glory days when this was a staple of American dance bands. Here, the band stay true to the original and their toe-tapping cover is uptempo, joyous and is a a reminder of another musical era.

Soul Station is the album that transformed Hank Mobley’s career. By the time the album was released in 1960 he was a prolific recording artist. Although his albums were well received by critics Soul Station was called the finest of his career. 

Nowadays Soul Station is regarded as a classic album and one of the finest albums released by Blue Note Records. Although it’s an album that’s rooted in the hard bop style elements of blues, Latin and classic jazz can heard during this almost flawless six track set which should’ve transformed Hank Mobley’s career. 

Despite releasing over thirty albums during his carer, Hank Mobley didn’t get the recognition his music deserved His finest hour was Soul Station which features Hank Mobley the man they called the: “middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone” at the peak of his powers.

Cult Classic: Hank Mobley-Soul Station.

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