Track selection: Tenor Conclave (Mobley)
Al Cohn, John Coltrane, Hank Mobley, Zoot Sims (ts) Red Garland (p) Paul Chambers (b) Art Taylor (d) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, September 7, 1956
A conclave is a secret meeting – nothing secret here. Billed on the original Prestige as “The Prestige All Stars”, and you can see why – Coltrane, Cohn, Mobley AND Sims. Why stop there? What no Rollins? If there’s an alternative title struggling to get out it’s “The Four Tenners”.
I will let Allmusic do the heavy lifting: “The Mobley-penned title track commences the effort with the quartet of tenors showing off their stuff in high-flying style. It takes a couple of passes and somewhat of a trained ear to be able to link the players with their contributions, but as is often the case, the whole tends to be greater than the sum of the parts. After a brief introduction with all four rapidly reeling off short riffs, Mobley charges ahead into truly inspired territory”
Vinyl: Esquire 32-059 UK (1957) release of US Prestige 7074, also released in 1962 as PRLP 7249 “John Coltrane – Tenor Conclave“.
PRLP 7074: The original cover (right) illustrates the problem of having four megastars. Who gets top billing? And probably more importantly, who is under contract to who. Mobley is listed first, out of alphabetical sequence, probably status due to being credited composer of two of the four tracks, the others being standards.
The original label settled for the rather pedestrian “Four Tenor Saxes” with no artist listing.
PRLP 7429: By the time Prestige reissued it in1962, perhaps Coltrane was the name to conjure with, hence the record mutated into “John Coltrane – Tenor Conclave“. Coltrane is mentioned last in list on the 1957 Esquire label here below. The rhythm section, of course, have to drive in the car behind.
UK Esquire 32 – 059 Tenor Conclave
US original stamper – hand-etched RVG
More astute readers may recognise this as a second bite of the cherry, being posted previously in the shape of a later Prestige Blue/Silver trident US third pressing. When an Esquire turned up on eBay, I was unable to resist going head to head between the Esquire, pressed from the original stampers of PRLP 7074, and the US “third pressing” ten years later.
The humble USB turntable used to rip the MP3 for streaming is unlikely to do justice to the differences, but on a top-notch turntable, err, like possibly my own Avid, the Esquire/7074 pressing sounds markedly superior to the Blue/trident pressing (which was no slouch), proving yet again that the closest to the source is best.
It is also a reminder of the fragility of our judgements. Without any reference point for comparison, something may sound great, and you might be tempted to just leave it at that. However you are robbing yourself of the opportunity to experience something better. The more you s t r e t c h, the higher the bar, the higher you jump. Pressings that a few years ago I used to consider the bees knees now just sound unremarkable, plain ordinary.
This thought was prompted by a recent power block upgrade, which for the moment has made things worse. Why not just leave well enough alone? Because ultimately the impulse for improvement is on the whole beneficial to life, even if it does cause a certain amount of upset along the way. Not all planned improvements work out that way. But then you can’t make an omlette without breaking eggs. And add to that, sometimes, breaking plates. But when you reach higher ground, the view is so much improved.
Metaphors mixed, while you wait