‘A Slice of the Top’ showcases Hank Mobley at the peak of his powers. It was the session that Mobley has said he was most proud of, and he pulled no punches in expressing his frustration that it sat unreleased—along with a half dozen of his other sessions—in Blue Note’s vaults for over a decade. With clever arrangements by the amazing Duke Pearson, the octet of Hank Mobley-tenor sax, Lee Morgan-trumpet, McCoy Tyner-Piano, James Spaulding-flute/alto sax, Kiane Zawadi-euphonium, Howard Johnson-tuba, Bob Cranshaw-bass & Billy Higgins-drums created one of Mobley’s GREATEST albums. It’s got a bigger sound due to the expanded lineup, the material is on the more adventurous side for Mobley, though he never strays from his trademark melodic excellence. Originally recorded 18 March 1966, it first saw the light of day as part of Blue Note’s LT Classics series in 1979 (cheap and plentiful in second-hand shops, with covers that look either like cheap packages of magnolia seeds, or the work of a first-day intern at Windham Hill), and then Blue Note’s Connoisseur series (this copy) in the mid-90s with a bit more sonic heft, mastered by Wally Trautgott. This session is collected along with the rest of Mobley’s 60s output (including all of his shelved sessions) as part of Mosaic’s ‘Complete Hank Mobley Blue Note Sessions 1963-70’ CD box, which from a sound quality perspective beats all the vinyl issues I’ve heard from these later 60s sessions. ‘A Slice of the Top’ is an often overlooked title in Mobley’s largely stellar catalog, which is a shame as it’s a superb record that I’d categorize as “must hear” material. Fortunately, it is available across the digital spectrum, and second-hand copies of the vinyl are fairly easy to come by h/t @gs_va12 for the suggestion!
Overlooked by me for a long time and infrequently discussed in the company of Mobley’s classic records, this record has more than meets the eye. When I first ran across it as a record store clerk, several things were true:
A) I was a prog rock snob
B) I had a solid academic knowledge of jazz players, albums and labels, but ZERO context in regards to relative quality
C) Working in a second-hand record shop back then was a little like having Spotify 35 years before everybody else—more music to sample then time to listen. It went long unheard…
Well, better late than never! Following the Sidewinder Manifesto (Lee Morgan on trumpet almost deserves equal billing across the whole record), it kicks off with a solid boogaloo track, then moves into the album highlight “The Morning After”, an almost Coltrane-ish affair. If you’re listening digitally, hit this track first. Not that the opening title track is bad, but “The Morning After” is WAY more interesting. Curtis Fuller’s trombone is splendid! Hot on its heels is Wayne Shorter’s “Venus Di Mildew”, a thinking-person’s waltz that swings a little to hard to be analytical, yet at the same time it’s brainy enough to make you forget your feet. Side two veers back to the kind of hard bop that a frontline like Mobley/Morgan/Fuller do so well, with Tyner providing quite a bit of extra chutzpah. Bob Cranshaw is ever solid on bass and Billy Higgins CRUSHES it left and right, with his cymbal work cutting through particularly well on the recording. I had unfairly lumped this record in with some of Mobley’s “less essential”. Bad Syd. Good record. Recorded this day 1965
One of the most underrated, underdiscussed and underappreciated record in the @bluenoterecords catalog. Love to hear arguments for/against this notion so fire away in the comments. Breaking this down a bit further:
1. This is easily pianist Kenny Drew’s best album as a leader, though he’s better known as a sideman (“Blue Train” for example). He’s nimble and fleet-fingered, capable of dropping jaws during a solo but he’s also got mad swing and a gorgeous approach to balladry: “Ballade”, the album’s sole downtempo track and the album’s closer, is also it’s highlight.
2. The one-two punch of Hank Mobley (tenor sax) and up & comer Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) who basically say “screw fire & ice, how about fire & more fire!” Here in this pure hard bop context, these two have mad rapport with both each other and Drew, making for a captivating frontline.
3. They rhythm section of Louis Hayes (drums) and Sam Jones (bass) are relentless and dynamic, driving the frontline with freight train intensity—they’re not going to let the frontline have all the fun.
I suppose the title could set expectations that won’t be met—“Undercurrent” might imply an atmosphere that’s laid back or tranquil but other than the closing ballad, this is an uptempo affair. Don’t sleep on this one! This is a Music Matters 33RPM pressing MMBST 84059, stereo
Two sessions make up this fantastic Blue Note rarity: a trio session with Freddie Roach (organ), Eddie Wright (guitar) & Clarence Johnston (drums) from 29 Nov 1963, expanded to a quintet with the addition of Blue Mitchell (trumpet) and Hank Mobley (tenor sax) for a second session on 9 Dec. Freddie Roach’s ‘Good Move’ is a cooker, though you’ll rarely hear Roach launch a blitzkrieg attack on the Hammond B-3. He prefers to build a groove that prioritizes blues over bravado, and gospel over grandstanding. Not that Roach doesn’t toss in the occasional flourish to remind you that he’s got the chops, he just doles them out on an as-needed basis. He’s also masterful at leveraging vibrato to underscore a mood. The opening track—an eerie, almost unsettling take on “It Ain’t Necessarily So”—is a great example. While there’s a bit of a dark undercurrent, and a slower, more deliberate tempo than versions I’ve been spinning lately (lookin’ at you Grant Green/Sonny Clark), it still swings pretty hard. As I listen to this trio play it, I keep expecting them to bust into The Animals take on “House of the Rising Sun” at any moment…I’m sure a musicologist among you has an answer for that, particularly in that The Animals didn’t release that until 1964! Moving on…this isn’t all a downtempo affair. The original “Wine, Wine, Wine” is a cooker, with Mobley having himself quite a blast during his time in the spotlight. “When Malindy Sings” is a terrific mid-tempo groover with a really well-executed solo by Blue Mitchell…great vibe. This copy is a 1963 original stereo pressing (BST 84158) with RVG and Plastylite “ear” in the dead wax