Saturday, May 22, 2010

Michael Fremer Album Review

Hank Mobley (reissue) Roll Call

Blue Note/Music Matters MMBST-84058 2 180g 45rpm LPs

Produced by: Alfred Lion
Engineered by: Rudy Van Gelder
Mixed by: Rudy Van Gelder
Mastered by: Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman at AcousTech

Review by: Michael Fremer

With clean “deep groove” originals of this 1960 release going for $500 and up, $50 is a bargain for this double 45rpm reissue cut from the original master tape without compression and including a set of outstanding inner jacket Francis Wolff photos included in a deluxe package.

The rarity of clean originals probably accounts for the high prices, plus it’s an all-star group backing Mobley including a twenty three year old Freddie Hubbard fresh off his own debut album Open Sesame plus a rather stellar rhythm section consisting of Paul Chambers on bass, Wynton Kelly on piano and the always mighty Art Blakey on drums.

This is one Blue Note that ices the notion that mono is how Blue Notes should be heard. For one thing, Blakey’s drums are allowed to roam half way across the soundstage in a bath of reverb instead of being locked away in one channel as RVG often did to drummers. For another, the wide separation between Hubbard’s trumpet and Mobley’s tenor sax allows for full enjoyment of each man’s contribution to the proceedings. Even Kelly’s piano, holding center court gets excellent sonic treatment from Van Gelder, whose piano sound was often boxy and distorted.

With the exception of a cover of “The More I See You,” the session features Mobley originals beginning with the title track opener that seems built upon or inspired by Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing).” Hubbard goes nuts and Mobley follows with some neat twists and turns.

The annotation’s characterization of Mobley is unusually tepid. For instance, “..and if the tenor saxophonist’s writing is not distinguished by innovation or always by a particular identity, it has good taste, form and a rhythmic persuasiveness going for it.”

That description is on target. The tunes themselves, especially heard in 2010, are familiar and not particularly memorable, but as the notes also contend, “…(the tunes) provided the springboard for many solos or merit.” Those are in abundance from both Mobley and Hubbard.

When this was recorded, Mobley had been in Miles Davis’ group for but a few months, which explains the presence of Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers, who were also playing with Miles then and had, of course, for some time.

Mobley played on the Some Day My Prince Will Come album and of course on the “Live at the Blackhawk” sessions, but his softer tone and laid back overall personality didn’t mesh well with what Davis was looking for and he was soon out of the group.

Mobley’s playing on the standard “The More I See You” is among the album’s highlights as is Hubbard’s muted trumpet playing on the tune. He doesn’t sound like Miles, liner notes to the contrary. He’s too busy and too fluid in my opinion. Wynton Kelly turns in a nice solo stand too.

The final tune “The Breakdown” gives everyone a chance to cut loose, with Blakey wailing and Mobley quoting some “Bemsha Swing.” It has the album going out on a high energy note.

This is another great Music Matters Blue Note reissue at a fraction of the price of an original and most likely more dynamic and tonally accurate too.

I compared it to Classic’s 33 1/3 reissue mastered by Bernie Grundman some years ago. I don’t have the exact date but this one was 180g and before Classic moved to paper on cardboard jackets. The cover art is abysmal as were many reissue covers in those early vinyl reissue days. It’s washed out and almost looks Xeroxed. The sound however, is very good. Never bet against Bernie cutting jazz. It’s his true passion. The 45rpm cut has an advantage, particularly on the inner grooves. However, for those who think some of the Hoffman/Gray cuts are too warm, the Classic has a hotter top end some might prefer. I’ll take the double 45 myself.

Thanks to Michael over at  for the exclusive rights to reprint this material.

Copyright © 2008 & Michael Fremer - All rights reserved Reprinted by Permission

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