ONE OF HIS LAST (AND BEST)
30 years after his untimely death, and we still hear the same old adages repeated about Hank Mobley: "Sonny Rollins meets Stan Getz", "the middleweight champ of the tenor sax", et al. Yes, some will always hold it against Hank that he walked the earth with some true giants and was never considered as ground-breaking or as influential as some of his peers. Even Blue Note withheld the release of many of his albums until long after they'd been recorded. This naturally led many to assume: if they're so great, why weren't they released right away? (Answer: record company politics). When Hank's work is acclaimed, it's almost always his early-to-mid 1960s albums that are mentioned, while the rest are politely dismissed or ignored.
Take a listen to Thinking of Home, recorded in 1970 and released in 1980 as one of Blue Note's highly-regarded "LT" series. This was one of Hank's last recordings before health issues forced him into early retirement. With a fabulous band (Woody Shaw: trumpet, Cedar Walton: piano, Eddie Diehl: guitar, Mickey Bass: bass, and Leroy Williams: drums), this album demands an honest re-appraisal by those who have otherwise written Hank off. A good case can even be made for Thinking of Home as a "career summation" album, as all of Mobley's influences are given a moment in the spotlight.
The album opens with a 10-minute suite, moving from an emotionally charged adagio to a straight-ahead center-section with solos, before closing with a leisurely "almost" bossa-nova. Very few could navigate so effectively through so many mood changes, but Hank pulls it off with aplomb. The late great Woody Shaw takes the first electrifying solo, and his devout following is immediately urged to buy this album to hear yet another phenomenal example of his blistering trumpet playing. "Justine", driven by Bass and Williams, is not only this album's masterpiece, but also one of Hank's greatest moments ever. This one will stay in your head long after it's over, and Mobley and Shaw's solos are simply miraculous. On "side-two", "You Gotta Hit It" provides vigorous hard bop after a relaxed opening, "Gayle's Groove" nods toward New Orleans, and "Talkin' About Gittin' It" acknowledges Hank's soul/r'n'b influences.
Don't let Thinking of Home's late release date fool you: this is more than just a "worthy addition" to the Mobley catalog or a record company cash-in. Nor is it a last desperate gasp by someone on his way out the door, but in actuality is a forward-looking statement that gives a tantalizing taste of what could have been had Hank been allowed to continue into the 1970s. This album will repay many re-listens, and I highly recommend it to all Mobley and Shaw fans, as well as to those who enjoy the classic Blue Note sound.