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Hank Mobley: Soul Station

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When I write, I often wish I had pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Art Blakey as my backing trio. I'd set them up in my office, and their swinging feel would motivate me to finish twice the work I set out to accomplish. While this isn't possible and wouldn't be even if they were still with us, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley was lucky to have them behind him on February 7, 1960, when he recorded Soul Station—arguably his finest album.

Four of the songs are Mobley originals—This I Dig of You, Dig Dis, Split Feelin's and Soul Station. The album's first and last tracks are standards: Irving Berlin's Remember and Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin's If I Should Lose You.

What makes this album special is the combination of Mobely's singular tone and slippery attack and the tossed-dice sound of the trio. Remember is taken at a sassy, walking tempo; This I Dig of You is a galloping hard-bop standard with a melody line that shifts from wistful to determined; Dig Dis is a jaunty blues; Split Feelin's seems like an ode to John Coltrane or a message letting him know that what he was doing was no mystery to Mobley, Soul Station is a loping blues; and If I Should Lose You is taken at an impatient tempo that gives the standard an urgency. And dig Mobley's outro on the last one!

Soul Station is an album worth cranking up. The music will captivate you with it's perfect execution and Mobley's silky, earthy narrative. Kelly's solos are remarkable for their impeccable snap and melodic seduction, Chambers jabs along with a warm woodiness, and Blakey unleashes his press rolls, door-knocking tom-tom shots and cymbal splashes. Each time I listen to this album, it gives me the same chills as watching a bowling ball slide down the lane with speed, curving in at the last second to explosively clear all the pins. It's hard to beat grace and power.

Hank Mobley died in 1986.

JazzWax clip: Here's This I Dig of You...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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