Hank Mobley and Art Farmer recorded together only six times. Their first union was in October 1955 on The Steve Allen Show with Charles Mingus and Art Blakey playing behind Thelonious Monk, the show's guest artist. In 1956 and 1957, Mobley and Farmer's studio albums together included Farmer's Market (Prestige), The Stylings of Silver (Blue Note) and Dial S for Sonny (Blue Note).
Only two of their five joint studio albums were Mobley-led dates. The second and last was Poppin', recorded in October 1957. The first was Hank Mobley Quintet, recorded in March 1957. Poppin' is solid but less of a pure Mobley-Farmer date. For one, baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams was added. For another, the date includes two standards rather than just Mobley compositions. For me, the Hank Mobley Quintet date is the more interesting collaboration.
Mobley began playing in the rhythm-and-blues circuit between 1949 and 1951, having been recommended to r&b artist Paul Gayten [pictured] by Clifford Brown. In 1952, Mobley was discovered by Max Roach, who a year later tried to recruit him to come out to California with Clifford Brown. But Roach was able to reach only Brown (now there's a phone call you could kill yourself for missing).
For most of 1954, Mobley recorded with Dizzy Gillespie. In September, he joined Horace Silver [pictured], who soon formed the ground-breaking quintet that would become known as The jazz Messengers (Doug Watkins, Art Blakey and Kenny Dorham were the other three founding members).
When the Jazz Messengers disbanded in 1956, the 12-inch LP was emerging, and Blue Note needed more tunes and longer tracks to fill the format. The Jazz Messengers were more valuable in pieces than as a unit.
Mobley worked consistently as a studio sideman and leader in 1956. Often thought of as a lesser light than contemporary Sonny Rollins, Mobley also had a stunning year in 1957, recording 14 albums in just 12 months—6 of them under his own name.
The pairing of Art Farmer and Mobley [pictured] on Hank Mobley Quintet is sensational, since you're able to hear Mobley's big oily tenor contrasted against Farmer's starched, crisp trumpet—without distraction. Add Horace Silver, Art Blakey and Doug Watkins, and you really have a Jazz Messengers date here plus a complete deck of Mobley originals. As you'll hear on the album, Mobley was vastly underrated as a hard bop composer, and his songs and solos are assertive and on point throughout.
The album opens with Funk in Deep Freeze, a blues that see-saws between minor and major keys. Farmer [pictured] solos first and it's a classic tah-tah-tah-tah-tah staccato performance. Wham and They're Off is an up-tempo hard bop tune that sounds like an early rendition of Mobley's This I Dig of You, with Mobley and Farmer running neck and neck. Blakey drives the tune, serving up dozens of different rhythms, while Mobley chugs along smoothly, offering idea after smoky idea. As always, Farmer's solo is understated and precise.
Fin De L'Affaire is a Mobley ballad that reminds you just how gifted a player he was. Your eyelids get heavy just listening to him bring out every rich flavor on his horn. The album's second breakneck hard-bop tune is Startin' From Scratch, again featuring hustling Mobley solos. This song is perhaps the album's high point, as Mobley and Farmer trade two rapid-fire measures each during the tune's latter section. Silver, of course, is at the height of his funky power, comping away in the background.
Stella-Wise is another hard bop tune taken at a slightly slower but still exuberant tempo. It features strong solo work by Silver. The closer is Base on Balls, a minor-key blues that lets Watkins [pictured] show his stuff. Watkins opens with a walking bass line and is soon joined by Blakey and then by Silver. Mobley and Farmer join in but keep their solos spare.
Four weeks after this date, Mobley (and Blakey) recorded on Johnny Griffin's A Blowing Session with Lee Morgan, Griffin, John Coltrane, Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers. Meanwhile, Farmer recorded Manny Albam's Jazz Greats of Our Time Vol. 2 with Bobby Brookmeyer, Phil Woods, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Gerry Mulligan, Hank Jones, Milt Hinton and Osie Johnson.
Mobley and Farmer reunited the following month in May for The Stylings of Silver, another terrific album. But back in March, on Hank Mobley Quintet, their chemistry was perfect and undiluted, and Mobley's originals were perfectly framed.
JazzWax tracks: Hank Mobley Quintet has been tricky to find. The same is true of Poppin'. Both are available as part of The Complete Blue Note Hank Mobley Fifties Sessions box from Mosaic here. Or you can find Quintet as an import here or here. You can find Poppin' here as a download.
JazzWax video clips: I couldn't find video of Mobley but here's a wonderful Mobley recording with still images of I Should Care form Another Workout (1961). And here's Art Farmer on Duke Pearson's ballad, You Know I Care.