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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Did the revaluation of Hank Mobley begin here?

Interesting article from the New York Times November 3, 1990. Given that when Mobley died in 1986 the Times didn't even publish an obituary it is interesting to see this article. So what happened between 1986 and 1990? Perhaps the 1987 reissue of Soul Station on CD?

Review/ Jazz; Hard-Bop Solos of 1950's By PETER WATROUS Published: November 3, 1990

The small-group hard-bop compositions of the 1950's and 60's are some of the least explored territories in jazz. The music's composers have been seen as improvisers who wrote pieces as vehicles for soloing; the tunes, difficult to play, dropped out of the standard repertory. The sold-out show at Weill Recital Hall on Monday night featured the music of the tenor saxophonist and composer Hank Mobley, who died in 1986. The concert was meant to prove a point about his music's brilliance, and did a good job of it.

Of all the composers of the Blue Note Record label school, Mr. Mobley, who recorded with the label between 1954 and 1970 -- he was anoriginal member of the Jazz Messengers -- clearly loved ambiguity. His compositions, verging on melancholy, usually right themselves with a blue undercurrent that stiffens them; switching emotions as quickly as they switch strains, the compositions unfold logically, piece by piece. And as played by an exceptional group, including Don Sickler on trumpet, Clifford Jordan on tenor saxophone, Cedar Walton on piano, Buster Williams on bass and Billy Higgins on drums, the tunes resonated with emotional power that in no way seemed dated.

But the show was making other points as well. As arranged by Mr. Sickler (who is behind a good deal of the small-band repertory movement) the pieces took on complexity, with riffs, short drum solos and stop-time sections breaking up the traditional string-of-solos form. In addition, Mr. Sickler put together medleys of similar tunes; not all the musicians soloed on each piece, putting the compositions in the foreground and making for an audience-friendly concert. And with the chronology of the tunes ranging from 1955 to 1972, Mr. Sickler brought some light on Mr. Mobley's lesser-known, later compositions.

All of this floated on a perfect rhythm section that locked into grooves with the finesse of a well-tuned sports car. Mr. Higgins and Mr. Walton have a rhythmic affinity, and they would catch the structural changes of a tune with rhythmic cadences that framed the improvisers' statements. And the soloists picked apart the tunes as well; Mr. Jordan, typically, turned modal sections of Mr. Mobley's later tunes into a playground, moving from belly honks to high-pitched pleas to be-bop lines, before being reined in by a tune's sudden harmonic movement. And Mr. Sickler eased his way through the changes gracefully, capturing the bluesy wistfulness and ease Mr. Mobley left as his legacy.

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