Doc Wendell’s Prescription for Hard-Bop: Hank Mobley’s “No Room For Squares” (Blue Note)

By Devon Wendell

It’s no news that Hank Mobley was one of the most under appreciated tenor saxophonists and composers to emerge from the post bop revolution in terms of press coverage. But Mobley didn’t need the assistance of the often obtuse jazz journalism world to be heralded as one of the prime innovators of the hard-bop sound created by such fellow masters as Art Blakey, Max Roach, Horace Silver, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson and long time collaborator Kenny Dorham.

Mobley could play it sweet like Stan Getz or Lester Young one moment and turn around and blow hard and swinging like Dexter Gordon or Don Byas the next. Mobley was also a hip composer who understood where the music was in the early ‘50s through the mid ‘60s as well as where it was headed.

71ntlgigyZL._SL1400_In 1963, Mobley recorded two smoking sessions with two separate and phenomenal bands. The two dates resulted in the Blue Note Classic No Room For Squares album. The first session, held on March 7, 1963 features Mobley joined by Lee Morgan, trumpet, Andrew Hill, piano, John Ore, bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums.

The tracks from this date display some of the most potent and masterful performances ever recorded by trumpeter Lee Morgan. His playing here rivals anything he recorded as a band leader. The title track, “Three Way Split” and “Me ‘N You” (written by Morgan) are examples of this. Morgan is on fire, as is Mobley and the entire band. These pieces have a slightly more modern swing to them than Mobley’s earlier work on his Blue Note Classics Soul Station and Role Call.
“Me N’ You” is one of the funkiest performances of the hard-bop era. This is Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley at their best. Morgan serves up some of his signature trumpet slurs and bends and the rhythm section keeps that groove right in the pocket where it belongs.

Andrew Hill’s modal piano comping adds a distinct hypnotic ambiance to these Mobley originals, especially on the lush ballad “Carolyn.” Philly Joe Jones plays the most perfect bebop style drumming imaginable. He adds the same magnificent accents and nuances to the phrasing of Mobley, Morgan, and Hill as they all take turns soloing.

The other session from October 2, 1963 features only two tracks; “Up A Step” and “Old World, New Imports.” The band on this date consists of Donald Byrd, trumpet, Herbie Hancock, piano, Butch Warren, bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums.

The two tracks are prime examples of some of Mobley’s hardest and most aggressive tenor lines of his entire career. He’s really reaching here and the results are beautiful. Mobley’s imagination seems boundless. “Old World, New Imports” is a revelation. Hancock and Warren play a more subtle role than Hill and Ore did on the previous date but Donald Byrd is in stellar form as usual and his virtuosic style cannot and mustn’t ever be compared to that of Lee Morgan’s. Philly Joe Jones’ powerful syncopated drumming is the driving energetic force on this number.

The remastered CD contains killer alternate takes of “Carolyn” and the title cut.

No Room For Squares exemplifies that quintessential Blue Note sound of the early ‘60s. Fans of Hank Mobley and Lee Morgan must own this if they don’t already and if you’re new to the music, this is a fantastic place to start.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

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