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Hank Mobley

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I guess this thread says it all. The Mobe has been discussed to death in this place. That however hasn't stopped all this posting and many more views. The people like Hank and can't get enough .

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Penultimate Blue Note recording artist? Can someone please explain what this means.

I think it means that he is a very strong icon for many of what Blue Note Records was during a very productive time. I don't think anyone here thinks that Hank Mobley alone, or as part of a small list of musicians, DEFINES the Blue Note legacy, just that he is as definitive a Blue Note recording artist as there ever was.

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Penultimate Blue Note recording artist? Can someone please explain what this means.

I think it means that he is a very strong icon for many of what Blue Note Records was during a very productive time. I don't think anyone here thinks that Hank Mobley alone, or as part of a small list of musicians, DEFINES the Blue Note legacy, just that he is as definitive a Blue Note recording artist as there ever was.

Penultimate, according to my dictionary means 'next to last', obviously he wasn't next to last chronologically so what did it mean? I agree that he could be regarded as a definitive Blue Note artist, and there are a lot of Blue Note fans about, me included. I have tons of Hank's albums both as a leader and as a sideman in my collection and he never lets us down.

I was just puzzled by use of the word 'penultimate'.

Edited by RayB

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May have posted this before, but here FWIW is the Mobley chapter from my book. I'd probably change a few things if I were writing now rather than in 1982 and 1987, but let it be:

HANK MOBLEY

The first of these two pieces was the liner note for a reissue of Hank Mobley’s 1957 album Poppin’. (The reference there to Nietzsche supposedly commenting on Mobley’s style was a would-be serious joke. Nietzsche did write those words, in his essay “Contra-Wagner,” but he was referring to the music of Georges Bizet.) The second piece was a posthumous appreciation.

[1982]

In the mid-1950s the Blue Note label yielded momentarily to supersalesmanship, releasing such albums as The Amazing Bud Powell, The Magnificent Thad Jones, and The Incredible Jimmy Smith. That trend was dormant by the time Hank Mobley became a Blue Note regular and unfortunately so--a record titled The Enigmatic Hank Mobley would have been a natural. “To speak darkly, hence in riddles” is the root meaning of the Greek word from which “enigma” derives; and no player, with the possible exception of pianist Elmo Hope, has created a more melancholically quizzical musical universe than Mobley, one in which tab A is calmly inserted in slot D.

Though he was influenced by Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, and, perhaps, Lucky Thompson, Mobley has proceeded down his own path with a rare singlemindedness, relatively untouched by the stylistic upheavals that marked the work of his major contemporaries, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, not previously known for his interest in jazz, Mobley’s music is “without grimaces, without counterfeit, without the lie of the great style. It treats the listener as intelligent, as if he himself were a musician. I actually bury my ears under this music to hear its causes.” And that is the enigma of Mobley’s art: In order to hear its causes, the listener must bury his ears under it. In a typical Mobley solo there is no drama external to the developing line and very little sense of “profile” the quality that enables one to read a musical discourse as it unfolds. Not that high-profile players--Rollins and Dexter Gordon, for example—are necessarily unsubtle ones. But to understand Mobley the listener does have to come to terms with complexities that seem designed to resist resolution.

First there is his tone. Always a bit lighter than that of most tenormen who worked in hard bop contexts, it was, when this album was made, a sound of feline obliqueness--as soft, at times, as Stan Getz’s but blue-gray, like a perpetually impending rain cloud. Or to put it another way, Mobley, in his choice of timbres, resembles a visual artist who makes use of chalk or watercolor to create designs that cry out for an etching tool. Harmonically and rhythmically, he could also seem at odds with himself. For proof that Mobley has a superb ear, one need listen only to his solo here on “Tune Up.” Mobley glides through the changes with ease, creating a line that breathes when he wants it to, one that that is full of graceful yet asymmetrical shapes. And yet no matter how novel his harmonic choices were--at this time he surely was as adventurous as Coltrane--Mobley’s music lacks the experimental fervor that would lead Coltrane into modality and beyond. Mobley’s decisions were always ad hoc; and from solo to solo, or even within a chorus, he could shift from the daring to the sober. What will serve at the moment is the hallmark of his style; and thus, though he is always himself, he has in the normal sense hardly any style at all.

Even more paradoxical is Mobley’s sense of rhythm. His melodies float across bar lines with a freedom that recalls Lester Young and Charlie Parker; and he accents on weak beats so often (creating the effect known in verse as the “feminine ending”) that his solos seem at first to have been devised so as to baffle even their maker. That’s not the case, of course, but even though he has all the skills of a great improviser, Mobley simply refuses to perform the final act of integration; he will not sum up his harmonic, rhythmic, and timbral virtues and allow any one element to dominate for long. In that sense he is literally a pioneer, a man whose innate restlessness never permits him to plant a flag and say “here I stand.” Thus, to speak of a mature or immature Hank Mobley would be inappropriate. Once certain technical problems were worked out--say, by 1955--he was capable of producing striking music on any given day. New depths were discovered in the 1960s and the triumphs came more frequently; but in late 1957, when Poppin’ was recorded, he was as likely as ever to be on form.

Much depended on his surroundings, and the band he works with here has some special virtues. The rhythm section is one of the great hard-bop trios, possessing secrets of swing that now seem beyond recall. Philly Joe Jones and Paul Chambers, partners, of course, in the Miles Davis Quintet, shared a unique conception of where “one” is--just a hair behind the beat but rigidly so, with the result that the time has a stiff-legged, compulsive quality. The beat doesn’t flow but jerks forward in a series of spasmodic leaps, creating a climate of nervous intensity that was peculiar to the era. Either the soloist jumps or he is fried to a crisp on the spot. As a leavening element there was Sonny Clark--equally intense but more generous and forgiving in his patterns of accompaniment. Clark leads the soloists with a grace that recalls Count Basie; and his own lines, with their heartbreakingly pure lyricism, make him the hard bop equivalent of Duke Jordan.

The ensemble sound of the band, a relatively uncommon collection of timbres heard elsewhere on Coltrane’s and Johnny Griffin’s first dates under their own names, gives the album a distinctive, ominous flavor; but this is essentially a blowing date. Art Farmer, for my taste, never played as well as he did during this period, perhaps because the hard bop style was at war with his pervasive sense of neatness. Possessing a musical mind of dandaical suavity, Farmer at times sounded too nice to be true. But this rhythm section puts an edge on his style (as it did a few months later on Clark’s Cool Struttin’), and I know of no more satisfying Farmer solo than the one preserved here on “Getting Into Something,” where he teases motifs with a wit that almost turns nasty.

Adams’s problem has always been how to give his lines some sense of overall design, and too often the weight of his huge tone hurtles him forward faster than he can think. But when the changes and the tempo lie right for him, Adams can put it all together; and here he does so twice, finding a stomping groove on “Getting Into Something” and bringing off an exhilarating doubletime passage on “East of Brooklyn.”

As for the leader, rather than describing each of his solos, it might be useful to focus first on a small unit and then on a larger one. On the title track, Mobley’s second eight-bar exchange with Jones is one of the tenorman’s perfect microcosms, an example of how prodigal his inventiveness could be. A remarkable series of ideas, mostly rhythmic ones, are produced (one might almost say squandered) in approximately nine seconds. Both the relation of his accented notes to the beat and the overall pattern they form are dazzlingly oblique; and the final whiplike descent is typically paradoxical, the tone becoming softer and more dusty as the rhythmic content increases in urgency. In effect we are hearing a soloist and a rhythm player exchange roles, as Mobley turns his tenor saxophone into a drum.

On “East of Brooklyn” Mobley gives us one of his macrocosms, a masterpiece of lyrical construction that stands alongside the solo he played on “Nica’s Dream” with the Jazz Messengers in 1956. “East of Brooklyn” is a Latin-tinged variant on “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise,” supported by Clark’s “Night in Tunisia” vamp. Mobley’s solo is a single, sweeping gesture, with each chorus linked surely to the next as though, with his final goal in view, he can proceed toward it in large, steady strides. And yet even here, as Mobley moves into a realm of freedom any musician would envy, one can feel the pressure of fate at his heels, the pathos of solved problems, and the force that compels him to abandon this newly cleared ground.

In other words, to “appreciate” Hank Mobley, to look at him from a fixed position, may be an impossible task. He makes sense only when one is prepared to move with him, when one learns to share his restlessness and feel its necessity. Or, as composer Stefan Wolpe once said, “Don’t get backed too much into a reality that has fashioned your senses with too many realistic claims. When art promises you this sort of reliability , drop it. It is good to know how not to know how much one is knowing.”

[1987]

“Ah, yes, The Hankenstein. He was s-o-o-o-o hip.” That was the response of Dexter Gordon when the late Hank Mobley’s name came up in conversation a while ago --“Hankenstein” identifying Mobley as a genuine “monster,” in the best sense of the term, while the slow-motion relish of “he was s-o-o-o-o hip” seemed to have both musical and extra-musical connotations. But then, like so many who came to know Mobley’s music, Gordon decided to qualify his praise, echoing critic Leonard Feather’s assessment that Mobley was “the middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone” whose approach to the instrument (according to Feather) lacked the “magniloquence” that Gordon, Sonny Rollins, and others had brought to it.

But that is not the only way to estimate Mobley’s achievement. The middleweight champ, yes, if magniloquence and size of tone are what is involved, but never merely a middleweight--for Mobley, who died last May at age fifty-five, blazed his own trail and left behind a body of work that never ceases to fascinate. Indeed, when one examines the core of Mobley’s music (the twenty-four albums he recorded under his own name for Blue Note from 1955 to 1970), it seems clear that his poignantly intense lyricism could have flourished only if magniloquence was thrust aside.

Mobley’s career as a recording artist falls into three rather distinct stages. The first ran from 1955 to 1958, when he made eight of his Blue Note albums, while working with the Jazz Messengers and groups led by Horace Silver and Max Roach. The second produced the magnificent Soul Station, Roll Call, Workout, and Another Workout albums in 1960 and 1961, when he was a member of the Miles Davis Quintet. And the third ran from No Room For Squares (1963) to Thinking Of Home (1970). Influenced initially by Sonny Stitt, but incorporating far more of Charlie Parker’s asymmetrical rhythmic thinking than Stitt chose to do, Mobley also was attuned to the lyrical sensitivities that Tadd Dameron brought to bop--an unlikely, even perilous, blend that gives Mobley’s stage-one solos their special flavor. Perhaps the first critic to pay close attention to him was an Englishman, Michael James, in the December 1962 issue of Jazz Monthly, and James’s account of the tenor saxophonist’s solo on “News”--from the 1957 album Hank Mobley (Blue Note )--is particularly apt. “His phrases grow more and more complex in shape,” James writes, “until . . . it seems that he is about to lose all sense of structural compactness. But he rescues the situation... and his last 12 bars, less prolix and tied more closely to the beat, imbue the whole improvisation with a unity of purpose that is paradoxically the more striking for its having tottered for a while, as it were, on the brink of incoherence.”

Solos of that kind and quality can be found as early as 1955, when Mobley recorded his first album, Hank Mobley Quartet (Blue Note ). And, as James suggests, his best work of the period is so spontaneously ordered and so bristling with oblique rhythmic and harmonic details that its sheer adventurousness seems inseparable from the listener’s--and perhaps the soloist’s--burgeoning sense of doubt. That is, to make sense of Mobley’s lines, one must experience every note--for there are so many potential paths of development, each of which can inspire in Mobley an immediate response, that the ambiguities of choice become an integral part of the musical/ emotional discourse.

And that leads to the genius of stage two, for as Mobley gained in rhythmic and timbral control, his music became at once more forceful and uncannily transparent--as though each move he made had its counterpart in a wider world that might not exist if Mobley weren’t compelled to explore it. Two fine examples of that urgently questing approach are “I Should Care” and “Gettin’ and Jettin’,” both from Another Workout (Blue Note). Rather than being a direct romantic statement, “I Should Care” becomes a song about the possible contexts of romance--not so much a tale of love but a search for a place where that emotion could be expressed. (Mobley does this by building his solo around “balladized” bop phrases whose angular tensions, here made more languid, serve to test the romantic dreaminess, which in turn tries to subdue those “realistic” intrusions.)

Mobley’s sensitivity to context is present in a different way on “Gettin’ And Jettin,’ ” as he pares down his lines toward the end of his brilliant solo in order to invite the active participation of drummer Philly Joe Jones. (Mobley’s interaction with drummers is a story in itself--his exceptional taste for contrapuntal rhythmic comment bringing out the best that he and such masters as Jones, Art Blakey, and Billy Higgins had to offer.)

Stage three of Mobley’s career has its virtues, too, and if such recordings as A Caddy ForDaddy (Blue Note ), Dippin’ (Blue Note ), and the first side of the recently issued Straight No Filter (Blue Note ) were all we had, Mobley still would be a major figure. But as John Litweiler has pointed out, Mobley “consciously abandoned some degree of high detail in favor of concentrating his rhythmic energies,” which gave his music a bolder profile but left less room for the jaw-dropping ambiguities of his stage one and stage two work. Above all, though--and to a degree that is matched by few jazz soloists--Mobley invites the listener to think and feel along with him. Indeed, his commitment is such that a commitment of the same sort is what Hank Mobley’s music demands.

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Penultimate Blue Note recording artist? Can someone please explain what this means.

I think it means that he is a very strong icon for many of what Blue Note Records was during a very productive time. I don't think anyone here thinks that Hank Mobley alone, or as part of a small list of musicians, DEFINES the Blue Note legacy, just that he is as definitive a Blue Note recording artist as there ever was.

Penultimate, according to my dictionary means 'next to last', obviously he wasn't next to last chronologically so what did it mean? I agree that he could be regarded as a definitive Blue Note artist, and there are a lot of Blue Note fans about, me included. I have tons of Hank's albums both as a leader and as a sideman in my collection and he never lets us down.

I was just puzzled by use of the word 'penultimate'.

I may well be wrong but could Horace Silver be the last of the original roster to leave the label and Hank the penultimate. Hmm but then there's Blue Mitchell., Gene Harris, Ok I'm not sure but just a guess at what the OP meant.

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I may well be wrong but could Horace Silver be the last of the original roster to leave the label and Hank the penultimate. Hmm but then there's Blue Mitchell., Gene Harris, Ok I'm not sure but just a guess at what the OP meant.

If you go into the 70s, Horace would have been the last, and Bobby Hutcherson the next-to-last. But then that raises the question of what is the real "original roster" and after Meade Lux Lewis & Albert Ammons, I'd suppose it's all got to be qualified in some form or fashion, eh?

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I first became aware of Hank Mobley when he appeared as a sideman on the Jazz Messengers at the Cafe Bohemia LPs on Blue Note issued in the mid 50's. I still love those sessions, though now have that music on CDs.

From that time on I bought everything that came out by Hank as leader or sideman.

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Mobley? That guy bores me to death. Listen to Kenny G instead!

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:)

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Penultimate Blue Note recording artist? Can someone please explain what this means.

I think it means that he is a very strong icon for many of what Blue Note Records was during a very productive time. I don't think anyone here thinks that Hank Mobley alone, or as part of a small list of musicians, DEFINES the Blue Note legacy, just that he is as definitive a Blue Note recording artist as there ever was.

Penultimate, according to my dictionary means 'next to last', obviously he wasn't next to last chronologically so what did it mean? I agree that he could be regarded as a definitive Blue Note artist, and there are a lot of Blue Note fans about, me included. I have tons of Hank's albums both as a leader and as a sideman in my collection and he never lets us down.

I was just puzzled by use of the word 'penultimate'.

Perhaps "consummate" may have been meant.

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How about "quintessential"?

But there were some mighty fine sax players on Blue Note in those days, including Jackie McLean, Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon, Stanley Turrentine, Lou Donaldson, Wayne Shorter (and I have just scratched the surface).

Edited by Milestones

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think how this might relate to his musical style: he was the kindest, most honorable person in the biz. hank was a really good person, never wronged no one

Edited by chewy

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Nor never wronged no note!

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wronging notes is a mean thing anyway, they don't have any means to defend themselves ...

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I listened to "Roll Call" yesterday, what a nice album.

Edited by CJ Shearn

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I listened to "Roll Call" yesterday, what a nice album.

My favourite....and I have them all!

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There's an interview with trumpeter Ron Horton where he says

I went through a period where I had to collect every Lee Morgan album. Had I known -- it was probably in the hundreds, the record dates he did -- I wouldn't have pursued it as much, but I couldn't get enough of him.

I think that kind of applies to Hank, too. Both of these guys were fairly consistent - I have all (or almost all) of HM's BN albums from 1955 through 1967, and I can't think of a weak one in the bunch - but I sometimes wonder whether I should have allocated some of my music-buying (and listening time) resources to another artist. That's my opinion about Alfred Lion's decision to record him so much too - it was a pretty good use of studio time and money, but I wouldn't have minded at least some of it getting reallocated to other, underrecorded artists of the time.

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Underrecorded artists are underrecorded because their records tend not to make money. Hank, although he never had a hit record, must have made a fair bit for BN. Don't forget, BN projects broke even on 2,500 sales. Someone who wasn't doing even that well was really not commanding an audience.

MG

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Underrecorded artists are underrecorded because their records tend not to make money. Hank, although he never had a hit record, must have made a fair bit for BN. Don't forget, BN projects broke even on 2,500 sales. Someone who wasn't doing even that well was really not commanding an audience.

MG

No doubt. My comment was based entirely on an utterly absurd hypothetical scenario where Lion was a philanthropist was constrained in time and recording costs, but indifferent to album sales.

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Here's my experience with the word penultimate.

First of all, it's not an everyday word and I've heard/seen tons of people use it incorrectly. I think its misuse stems from the way we see the word ultimate being used quite often - which in today's jargon is often synonymous with "best ever". So, when people hear the word penultimate, I think - because there's an extra syllable - they associate that with "better than ultimate" of sort of "uber-ultimate"

Plus, quite often, the way the word penultimate is used in context it is difficult to think it means anything other than "uber-ultimate"

"The penultimate stage of the Tour de France"

"The penultimate album by Cream"

"The penultimate Grateful Dead Concert"

If you don't know what it means and hear the word used in the above contexts - it's easy to think it is equivalent to being better than best.

......and it sounds like one of those words that's nice to have in your arsenal to throw out there when you want to differentiate what you're saying from everyday language or impress. We know from this thread what happens when you plan backfires because you made the mistake of hearing the word used and then repeating it in a similar context.

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"next to last"--- if people really used it as it means, it would hardly ever get used!

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Here's my experience with the word penultimate.

First of all, it's not an everyday word and I've heard/seen tons of people use it incorrectly. I think its misuse stems from the way we see the word ultimate being used quite often - which in today's jargon is often synonymous with "best ever". So, when people hear the word penultimate, I think - because there's an extra syllable - they associate that with "better than ultimate" of sort of "uber-ultimate"

Plus, quite often, the way the word penultimate is used in context it is difficult to think it means anything other than "uber-ultimate"

"The penultimate stage of the Tour de France"

"The penultimate album by Cream"

"The penultimate Grateful Dead Concert"

If you don't know what it means and hear the word used in the above contexts - it's easy to think it is equivalent to being better than best.

......and it sounds like one of those words that's nice to have in your arsenal to throw out there when you want to differentiate what you're saying from everyday language or impress. We know from this thread what happens when you plan backfires because you made the mistake of hearing the word used and then repeating it in a similar context.

Ah, now I understand how "penultimate" is (incorrectly) used on some fora; I always thought people meant "next to last" - from the Latin "paene" or "almost" and "ultimus" or "last". Latin expressions and words are often misused and/or misspelled on English-language boards. A case in point is "ad nauseam", which is regularly misspelled as "ad nauseum". There are other examples.

If you don't know what it means or how to spell it, don't use it.

Edited by J.A.W.

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We've had this experience here with the word "nonplussed" being misused.

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"The penultimate stage of the Tour de France"

That's easy, it's segment/day 20!

"The penultimate album by Cream"

Why didn't they look for a good guitar player? Oh, wait, the answer is: Wheels of Fire!

"The penultimate Grateful Dead Concert"

Depends on how far you're willing to go. Mine wouldn't be that much later than the ultimate concert with Pigpen.

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"next to last"--- if people really used it as it means, it would hardly ever get used!

I always hear Mauro Ranallo, former commentator for mixed martial arts on Showtime and now Showtime Championship Boxing say "the penultimate round".

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