Hank Mobley has often been tagged as one of the lesser saxophone players of the 1950’s and 1960’s era. Dubbed ‘the middleweight champion of the world’ by critic Leonard Feather, to reflect his neither having the heavyweight aggression and free explorations of John Coltrane or the lighter melodically rich stylings of Stan Getz, and instead possessing a strong ‘rounded’ quality, many often mistakenly took the term to be one of derision. Commercial success too seemed to elude him, and only briefly playing with Miles Davis, and heard on his ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’, he was roundly dismissed as being an incompatible match for what Davis wanted.
The truth though is that despite his lack of unique style or tone, and his in truth no better than just good technique, he was always a highly melodic and lyrical tenor man, who though lacking any notably distinctive improvisational prowess, was also a very impressive composer. His career as bandleader is usually seen as being in three clear parts; the good mid-fifties work, the career plateaux of the early sixties, and everything later from the mid-sixties and a few sessions from the early seventies. His early sixties work then is the definitive period that everyone should check out, it being for the most part responsible for the half dozen truly excellent albums he recorded.
‘Workout’, recorded in 1961, is one of his very best, just nipping at the heels of ‘Soul Station’ (and possibly ‘Roll Call’) for the position of his best album. The title track and ‘Smokin’’ are pure bop and hard bop with Mobley at his most impassioned and best, while ‘Greasin’ Easy’ is a harder blues and ‘Uh Huh’ occupies a more soul and R&B field. Excellent tunes played superbly, they’re all by Mobley, and sit nicely with the two standards here which feature the tenor saxman at his most beautiful.
‘Three Coins In A Fountain’ is typically lyrical Hank, but ‘The Best Things In Life Are Free’ is simply uplifting euphoria and happiness in musical form. Staying close to the melody of the piece, it’s a sunny rendition and the good time everyone in the studio is having is palpable in the air.
The Wynton Kelly Trio with Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums provide a great rhythm. Kelly’s piano lines are tasteful and slightly bluesy, providing a nice match against Grant Greens highly valuable guitar ork, whose own interplay with Mobley on his ‘Uh Huh’ is outstanding. But no-one on this sesson plays better than Mobley himself, his pristine tone and lyrical beauty here unassailable.