Hank Mobley: Poppin’ (1957) King Records

Stereo that never was…

Hank-Mobley-Poppin'-japan-cv-1920-LJC

Selection: Poppin’ – as published, in Stereo

Or, as intended:

Repeat Selection: Poppin’ – channels summed (50/50 “mono”)

Artists:

Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone) Art Farmer (trumpet) Sonny Clark (piano) Pepper Adams (baritone saxophone) Paul Chambers (bass) Philly Joe Jones (drums)recorded  October 20th,1957, Hackensack N.J.

Music

1957

Set your watches please for 1957. Russia launches Sputnik 1, Elvis premiers in Jailhouse Rock, Britain tests it’s first atom bomb on Christmas Island (Popn. 2,072). Bet the islanders were pissed with us. “Hey Poms! What you done to our island?!  Umm.. not uninhabited then. Awfully sorry, clerical error (corrects notes) “Now uninhabited (Popn. 0)”

More m…m..m..Mobley! Between November 1956 and April 1958 Mobley recorded ten solo albums and played on twelve others. This 1957  session Poppin‘ never made to wax at the time, but it’s a beautiful session, with Art Farmer’s liquid gold offsetting Hank’s malted chocolate tenor, Pepper Adams grinding chainsaw baritone spicing up the brass line-up, while Sonny Clark bounces boisterously up and down on the piano. Philly Joe and Paul Chambers simply lay it down straight.

Mobley plays with a delightful unevenness in pace and direction, throwing notes, climbing scales, sliding flourishes, freshly minted ideas on the fly, all in a smeary nasal drawl that is instantly recognisable as Mobley’s voice. I don’t already know where he is going to go or where he will pause, where turn to next, but I know he will carry me with him. There are times are when Rollins and Coltrane, his comparators,  are too relentless, exhausting, driven. Mobley is a walk in the park, makes me smile. Life today, a smile is good.

LJC-Michael-Caine- Professor Jazz fastshow30

Hey Tokyo, London calling, can we talk Engineering?

Which makes more sense here, Mono or Stereo?

This was never intended to be a stereo recording.

 

Between May 1957 and October 1958, Van Gelder was recording in both mono and two-track. In Van Gelder’s words “”the two track was filed away and basically ignored” (cited by Fred Cohen). Hackensack had only one monitoring and playback speaker, and no-one at the time had heard or monitored this recording in Stereo (Fight! Fight!)

King Records  issued mono only when that was all that was available, GXK #### (M). In this case Tokyo must have been sent the two-track tape – or asked for it in preference, as a mono version was sure to have existed. No doubt King Records engineers couldn’t believe their luck in finding a “stereo” Hackensack two-track recording from as far back as 1957, previously unissued, and couldn’t resist issuing it for the first time, in Stereo. Moreover when they issued it again a year later, that too is stereo. May be they said to each other, “I know, I know, but it’s the way Rudy wanted it. Who are we to disagree?” (in Japanese, of course)

What you get served up in stereo is the ultimate in hard panning. Each soloist is  jammed into the left channel, in turn one after the other, no semblance of soundstage or instrument placement,  just raw material, living proof that  two track this early was never intended for stereo release: merely a vehicle to give the engineer greater control over the final mono mix. Fortunately, a mono switch on the phono-amp corrects the engineer’s decision. Now it is the way Rudy heard it.

Vinyl: GXK 8163

GXK 8163  Japan only release 1979-1980 “World First Appearance” Series, also issued the following year as GXF-3066 1980-1981 “Unissued Masters Series Part 1“. I don’t understand how it can be both a world first appearance and an unissued master. One can’t be right.

110077797936[1]This Mobley session  went on to be issued by Mosaic Records MQ10-181 long out of print, and by Toshiba on ESD. If anyone has the Mobley 10 LP box set, firstly, congratulations, several hundred dollars well spent there. How did Cuscuna decide to handle Poppin’ ? Mono or Stereo, or a more  judicious remix. Who’s the master engineer? The improbably named Ron McMaster?

The label  © below says 1981, so it should be the year later 2nd pressing, or may be I don’t understand what our friends at microgroove.jp are saying. Anyway, what’s a year? (A long time if you are waiting for a record in the post!)
Hank-Mobley-Poppin'-japan-lbs-1920-LJC

Hank-Mobley-Poppin'-japan-bk-1920-LJC

Collector’s Corner

Personally I can listen to lots of Mobley. I had a few issues with the stereo but managed to get that sorted. Like the last Lee Morgan post, there are lots of good people playing here, it’s a vehicle for all of them. And if you don’t like one, no problem, some one else will be along in a minute. Small doses of Art Farmer here have got me listening and warming to him, more so than a full “trumpet album”. And you can’t have too much Mobley.

A little more on Mobley The Man. Some of you will no doubt be familiar with it, but there is a long thread on Organisimmo, back in 2008, with three pages of comments about Hank, which Mobleyists can peruse at their leisure.  (There is a nice riposte as to who coined the description of Mobley as the “middleweight champion of the tenor”?  “Leonard Featherweight.” someone replies.)

I’d like to repost just the tribute article here, as fitting addendum to a Mobley posting.
Hank1Hank2Hank-3

Amen.

UPDATE: By one of those extraordinary coincidences that dog record collectors, I bought an Art Pepper Mosaic recently, dating from back in 1985. Unexpectedly, the original British owner had stuffed in the back of the box along with the Mosaic invoice, a poster that  Mosaic had included, advertising a Blue Note special evening concert in New York February 22nd, 1985, to promote the revival of the label by Capitol Manhattan. Look familiar from the opening of the Mobley article? Sadly no mention of an appearance by Hank.

Blue-Note-Concert-1985-poster-1920-LJC.jpg

Look at that line-up? Wouldn’t you want to be there? Mouth-watering. Where the hell are they keys to my time machine? Damn! It’s in for its’ 100 year service! Anybody out there got to it, do tell? It’s only 30 years ago.

 

 

 

 

56 thoughts on “Hank Mobley: Poppin’ (1957) King Records

    • I’m guessing the Dorian has modern vertical compliance, and from the info on vinylengine it appears to use a modern line contact stylus, so I’m inclined to say yes, but I would double-check with the manufacturer. The important thing is that it has ‘modern’ vertical compliance that won’t damage a stereo record.

  1. Hi Rich.
    (For technical reasons, I have taken the liberty to move my reply to the top – please bear with me, all of you.)

    Re: “Why would one’s freedom to balance the mix be limited by the position of the instruments in the stereo field?”
    I may not have been very clear about this – but what I meant to say was: If his intention had been to alter the balance when making the mono master disk – and I know from you that it wasn’t! – he would have faced an awkward situation (compared with modern multi-track recording, for instance) with his two channels, each containing an unchangeable mix of instruments. That was the “limited” freedom I was talking about.

    So, summing up both your comment and the link provided by you, one might say: In 1957, RVG was recording to two-track without any intention to alter the channel balance in the subsequent mastering process. What he was hearing was mono, and the final result was mono. So he might as well have recorded to full track and the result would have been exactly the same. Right so far?

    Plus: He knew, of course, that basically his two-track master could be used to produce some kind of stereo, but compared to what was happening in some of the major label studios, his own technology – however perfect in its own way – must have seemed rather crude (to him). And that’s why he kept saying those recordings should be listened to in mono. Right?

    • “So, summing up both your comment and the link provided by you, one might say: In 1957, RVG was recording to two-track without any intention to alter the channel balance in the subsequent mastering process.”

      To be very clear, in 1957 he was recording to two separate tape machines: one full-track machine and one two-track machine. Until late 1958 every mono master disk was cut from a full-track tape. As for the two-track tapes that were ignored until late 1958, once Blue Note did decide to issue stereo versions of select albums, yes, Van Gelder did not alter the balance between the two channels of the two-track tape (as evidenced by the piano being dead center on those recordings).

      “What he was hearing was mono, and the final result was mono. So he might as well have recorded to full track and the result would have been exactly the same. Right so far?”

      I think you’re talking about the time period after 1958 when he dropped full-track recording and began recording to two-track only–the “50/50 system” era, and I think you’re wondering why Van Gelder didn’t continue to record Blue Note to both full-track and two-track tape? The simple response is reread my article. 😉

      “Plus: He knew, of course, that basically his two-track master could be used to produce some kind of stereo, but compared to what was happening in some of the major label studios, his own technology – however perfect in its own way – must have seemed rather crude (to him). And that’s why he kept saying those recordings should be listened to in mono. Right?”

      Whether or not Van Gelder personally believed that mono LPs cut from a full-track tape were superior to mono LPs cut from a summed two-track tape, I don’t think we’ll ever know. I get the impression that he saw himself first and foremost as a servant of the labels. Plus, it seems clear that he would have much rather not had to splice two tapes than to have satisfied some ideological principle related to cutting mono LPs from a full-track tape.

      • PS: It would seem that he believes the albums should be listened to in mono because that’s simply where he remembers all the care and attention going during the recording sessions, though it’s very clear at this point that that won’t change the fact that his stereo recordings sound equally brilliant and that many actually prefer them.

      • Oh, sorry – I forgot about that time span when he recorded both ways. Everything is clear now, thank you again!

  2. A fine album from one of the greatest tenor saxophonists with an unusual, laid-back style and beautiful, silky tone and breathy sound. I may not always be in the mood for other greats like Coltrane, Booker Ervin or Joe Henderson, but I’m always in the mood for Mobley!

    I’ve talked to Dutch pianist Rob Agerbeek, who toured in Europe with Mobley in 1968/69. He said that Mobley was in fine form in that period. Including fine drinking form, but like a lot of veterans, he didn’t really want to delve too deeply into the addiction. Mobley’s tale is tragic, but one of many.

    I thought I was going to find a new perspective on ‘the middleweight champion’-bit but I couldn’t find it in the Organissimo thread.

    (This is in place of Anonymous. I’ve commented before on your site with my own name, Francois, but now I’m Grant via wordpress, I don’t know why I’m not immediately registered as Francois, instead of Anonymous etc, but I’ll check it out)

  3. A fine album from one of the greatest tenor saxophonists with an unusual, laid-back style and beautiful, silky tone and breathy sound. I may not always be in the mood for other greats like Coltrane, Booker Ervin or Joe Henderson, but I’m always in the mood for Mobley!

    I’ve talked to Dutch pianist Rob Agerbeek, who toured in Europe with Mobley in 1968/69. He said that Mobley was in fine form in that period. Including fine drinking form, but like a lot of veterans, he didn’t really want to delve too deeply into the addiction. Mobley’s tale is tragic, but one of many.

    I thought I was going to find a new perspective on ‘the middleweight champion’-bit but I couldn’t find it in the Organissimo thread.

  4. Great article, thanks for posting. Interesting that many of his most-sought-after albums are considered by many (including Horace Silver, no less), to be his lesser work. I agree that Soul Station and Roll Call, at least, are far superior to his earlier Blue Note sessions. But I think many of those are pretty decent too.

            • A conflation of record dealers? I have seen that price-setter 2nd place a***u many many times , isn’t that a Disk Union buyer account? It’s a familiar approach, they laid down a sleeper bid of $199 a week before close, that’s their business approach, very pro. If it goes higher its bad business. In the Tokyo market I expect them to know local worth. Very savvy.

              The winner also looks a dealer, big score (2868) may be he lost track of what he had bids on. Load it with post and taxes, a Liberty is not worth that here.

              The words “near mint” seem to make people lose their senses. I had a tube of Lifesavers once – they were near mint, but I wouldn’t have paid $200 bucks for them. Crazy.

              • That makes sense now, at least to me. If you have the necessary spare, you surely don’t want to hang in weeks after weeks, month after month on eBay just to be able to win your favorite original BN record! You simply make an order at your record broker of trust and he’ll fix it. Now I understand why sometimes I get lucky on some rare item at an ok price! There is simply no broker out there at that particular moment..wow. Maybe I should start such a business too: ‘better call Fred’! Thanks LJC to feeding my conspiracy theories;)

      • Tough to say if that’s an outrageous amount of money for that LP in my opinion. I’ve seen mid-to-late 60s mono reissues in VG++/NM condition with classic labels sell in the $200 range before–some Plastylite, some not, some NY USA labels, some Liberty labels, all original Van Gelder mono mastering. But to think that you’re getting a copy cut from the original Van Gelder mono lacquer, and factor in that the LP came out in the later 60s when playback technology was better and thus that you’re less likely to get a disk damaged by an inferior stylus/tonearm setup, I’d say these copies are in the ballpark, though $200-$250 is probably the cap.

        • Rich, I fully agree with you. These are the last mono Blue Notes that use Van Gelder master’s and they sound amazing. The variation of vinyl/labels/jackets from this time period appears endless. I have 2 copies of Lee Morgan’s City LIghts that both have the original laminated cover with the 47 West 63rd St., New York 23 back paper slick. One has the 63rd st labels with no “r” and the other has Liberty lables with the “r”. One has a Liberty inner sleeve and the other, 27 Years Blue Note. The placement of the numbers on the dead wax on both records looks identical. I assumed that since they didn’t have any mono lps in production that they pressed up enough to use up the unused laminated record sleeve slicks that were still in the warehouse.

    • for me his best is the album with Bags. He miraculously adapted his sound to be in harmony with the vibraphone, resulting in the most eerie and delicate timbre one can imagine.( BLP 1544)

  5. Nice record indeed. Mine is the first pressing GXF-3066 production year 1980. As to instrument placing if anyone cares: all three brass are on the left channel and bass and drums on the right. As for the piano, I have the impression that it is centered. Maybe the Japanese engineers did some remastering??

    • Yes, you are correct, the piano is centred , I watched the signals for each channel in Audacity during the rip, and whenever the piano is prominent it is equal value left and right channel. You see the brass only in the left, while bass and drums are only in the right. Perhaps they were able to filter the piano off from the bass and drum track, and pump some back on each side. Personally I would have folded it all down to mono, naked as nature intended.

      • Missing my mono-switch on my old vintage 80’s marantz reference class;(
        By the way, I can warmly recommend a previously unissued mono king with hank mobley from february 57: K.B.Blues from Kenny Burrell. IT received moderate grading at allmusic, but I really dig it.
        Killer line-up: Mobley, Burrell, Horace Silver, Doug Watkins, Louis Hayes.

      • RVG hardly never recorded with “a hole” in the middle – effect” even in 1957. Sure some instruments are hard panned but the middle is never empty. No filtering by the Japanese here for sure. 😉

        • Interesting observation, Shaft. And no objections either. But why did he send the piano through both channels (which he obviously did)? And why did he record to two-track at all if all he wanted was a good mono mix? After all, you can’t really “mix” the instruments properly when you have some of them clustered to the left and some to the right, at least your freedom to do so is very limited.

          Was he, for all his mono monitoring and mastering, thinking of an option for stereo at this early stage?

        • Though it’s true that in those experimental days he did usually have the piano alone in the center, I’m certain that he did record with nothing in the middle on occasion. Below is a list of stereo Blue Note albums for which I’ve heard where there appears to be nothing panned center:

          Cliff Jordan 1565
          Bass on Top
          Dial S for Sonny
          Blue Train

          Some stereo reissues of these (such as the RVG Edition CDs) will take the left channel and pan it center so it would appear that the center isn’t empty, but I’m certain that it was on the tape. And for these albums, only the mono feed from his EMT reverb plate appears to be center (no instruments):

          Paul Chambers Quintet 1564
          Bennie Green Back on the Scene 1587
          Introducing the Three Sounds
          Moanin
          Donald Byrd Off to the Races
          Jazz Messengers at the Jazz Corner of the World

          I was a little confused by LJC’s comment about the piano.

          • Hi Rich!
            Sorry I have to disagree about the whole in the midlle for at least (did not have time to try them all):

            Bass on Top
            Dial S for Sonny
            Blue Train

            Listening closely on headphones:

            The piano is indeed there panned in the middle (fed from both channels). What I mean is that if there is an instrument panned left/right of the piano (in this case left) that must mean that the piano is indeed recorded in both channels. Otherwise they could not sound separated.

            It is however true that the RVG CD editions narrowed the soundfield to almost mono (like he remembered it we usually state). In later RVG CDs the stereo spread was wider though.

            • Thanks for looking into this, Shaft. It would appear that I did my research somewhat hastily the first time around. However, I still contest that the following have empty centers:

              Blue Train (http://dgmono.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/01-Blue-Train.m4a)
              Moanin (http://dgmono.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/01-Moanin.m4a)
              Three Sounds 1600 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xavh-5R0Xmo&list=PLOdsiF-zmkxiawO3Pn3sLSdcE3JPxFaDm)
              At the Jazz Corner of the World (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4r3Whn36jQ4&index=2&list=PLL9NruBcwuKzxvhCmabdHc2O6r2fpnUqX)

              I think it’s pretty clear with headphones that the stereo positioning of the piano is far left, identical to the horns on all the above albums (Blue Train is the classic case, I’ve heard it talked about before as well). Also, I think it’s more difficult to detect but if you wait for a moment where the bass is well-defined it should be obvious that it’s far right. On a side note, it’s interesting that these are not Van Gelder earliest stereo recording, far from it. In fact, many people know that Moanin the last album he recorded to both full-track and two-track.

              As for the others, my excuse is that I must have heard an RVG Edition where the horns and piano were both center and I assumed Van Gelder was doing that to bring in the left channel where the horns and piano were both located. It would appear that with Dial S for Sonny that happened. With Bass on Top the piano is clearly in the center, no idea what happened there. As for the others I listed, it’s a bit more difficult to pinpoint each instrument’s position in the stereo field because the files I have sound like they’re ‘pulled in’.

              Do you hear what I’m hearing?

            • PS: The Blue Train an Moanin clips are direct from the ’80s Capitol CD reissues, the first ones mastered by Ron McMaster, who was known to leave the stereo spread as it was on the tapes.

  6. I am completely ignorant in sound matters. Friends tell me what to buy and have installed and I execute. To prove my ignorance I am asking the following question:
    Can I play this “stereo” record on my mono turntable (Dorian moving coil for mono) or must I play it on my MM-fitted turntable for stereo (and mono too, if I wish)?
    When switching from one turntable to the other I have a pre-preamplifier with a MM/MC knob.

    • As it has been told to me, I know nothing personally, a mono cartridge is designed to read the groove in the vertical plane, by rising and falling. A stereo cartridge fluctuates in the horizontal plane, moving from side to side, thus able to read the different information on each wall of the groove. A stereo cartridge can read both mono and stereo, but a mono cartridge can read only mono, and may damage a stereo record. Or so I’m told.

      This is a stereo record, to play with a stereo cartridge only. The cheat is to bridge the left and right channels electronically into one, which is what a mono/stereo switch in an amp does. If your amp or pre-amp or phono amp has such a switch. If it doesn’t, your only option is to move the two speakers next to each other. Sort clumsy solution. If I did this in my house, the speakers are so heavy there is a risk they would disappear through a hole in the floor. This is a solution which would win approval of Mrs LJC, who has always argued my speakers are too big. (Oh, and that I have too many records, which all collectors know is a scientifically-demonstrable impossibility. There is always room for one more)

      • Not quite, LJC. A mono cartridge reads along the horizontal plane, while with stereo, each of the two channels is carried independently by a separate groove wall, each wall face moving at 45 degrees to the plane of the record surface. So it combines, in a way, horizontal and vertical movement.

        Vertical up-and-down movement was used by Edison but given up in favour of horizontal movement until its rediscovery, as it were, for stereo recording.

        • The square of the hippopotamus is equal to the other two sides, multiplied by the angle of the dangle. Less the number you first thought of, of course, I knew that. Just umm testing. Good to see you are still on your toes, Groovewear.

      • thank you. Your advise is non-equivocal, I’ll play this album with a stereo cartridge only. I don’t have a mono/stereo switch in my system, so I’ll have to bear with the stereo..
        I envy you, sharing your music room with Mrs LJC supervising..

        • Actually, you can play this on your Dorian mono. Vintage mono cartridges restrict movement in the vertical plain (which eliminates rumble) and will damage stereo LPs.

          Modern mono cartridges will move vertically so they will not damage stereo LPs. They won’t respond to those movements electrically, but they will trace the groove. This is necessary because modern mono LPs are cut with stereo cutter heads, so even though the tape is mono, there is some vertical modulation in the groove.

          • I would argue that even though modern mono LPs are cut with a stereo cutter head, they should be nearly as ‘vertically stable’ as vintage mono LPs. The only vertical modulations one would seem to get would be generated after the full-track tape machine’s signal is split for what I assume would be a stereo mastering chain. So the differences between the two channels causing vertical modulations would need to be introduced in a very high quality stereo mastering chain that is likely to keep the two signals pretty much identical for delivery to the stereo cutter head.

            But the main reason modern mono carts have VC is probably more about production cost, as a special cantilever, suspension etc. doesn’t need to be designed and manufactured. Since the coils are aligned to pick up virtually nothing from the vertical modulations anyway, the modern design doesn’t really lose anything by being VC.

            If the Dorian cart is a ‘modern’ mono cart, it seems highly likely that it has vertical compliance, so yes, I would agree that Rudolf could play stereo albums with his Dorian mono cart. I’d double check with the company to be 100% sure, unless tracingerror can confirm that themselves.

      • First of all, you don’t need a mono switch. A simple Y cable from phono pre to preamp or from phono cable to phono pre will sum the signal.

        Also, you can actually play this on your Dorian mono. Vintage mono cartridges restrict movement in the vertical plain (which eliminates rumble) and will damage stereo LPs.

        Modern mono cartridges will move vertically so they will not damage stereo LPs. They won’t respond to those movements electrically, but they will trace the groove. This is necessary because modern mono LPs are cut with stereo cutter heads, so even though the tape is mono, there is some vertical modulation in the groove.

        In fact, some “mono” cartridges (no the Dorian) have stereo magnets but just strap the two channels together. The Dorian and some others don’t have magnets that will respond to vertical modulation at all (a better approach).

  7. It is all in the ears of the beholder, of course, but to mine, Hank Mobley was one of the very best tenor saxophone players. The Miles in Person at the Blackhawk recordings that were issued have a lot of Mobley edited out. I have the Complete set that Mosaic issued and they reveal what Mobley did that weekend. To my ears he made those performances very memorable.

    A tragic story of a great man.

  8. Poor Hank.

    Agreed that his finest run as composer & leader was ‘Soul Station’, ‘Roll Call’ & ‘Workout’, but I disagree with Eric Nisenson regarding ‘Live @ the Blackhawk’: http://themaninthegreenshirt.tumblr.com/post/137750458370

    I reckon his playing on this is the equal to any of his playing in this period [that phrasing!] & he serves as a capable foil to Miles [if not @ the incendiary voltage of Coltrane]

    • While not a great Mobley fan, I think his contribution to the Miles Blackhawk sets is often under-rated. That was a great, hard-swinging mainstream band — probably about as hard-swinging and mainstream a band as Miles ever put together, in fact.

      It is arguable that Mobley played at too great a length sometimes, and I wouldn’t mind betting that Miles thought that too (hell’s bells, Miles thought Coltrane played too many notes!), so I wonder whether the editing of Mobley’s solos may have been done with Miles’s agreement? Of course, original LP length/capacity would have played a part too…

    • compare Trane, Hank and Stiit, all with Miles in that timespan. Trane was getting out of the harnass and soon flying on his own wings, not part of the group anymore. Hank very much within the group and performing great. Stiit just filling up the seat left empty by Trane’s departure. Leaves no impression at all, though a competent craftsman.

  9. I thought I was reasonably familiar with the problems that plagued Mobley’s personal life but this article lays it bare in ways that are actually distressing to read. Nevertheless, Andy, I thank you for bringing it to our attention because knowledge of Mobley’s struggles can only enhance our appreciation of his artistry.

    Also, I’m disappointed with Nisenson’s critique of Mobley’s performances with Davis on the Blackhawk dates. On the Friday Night record at least, Mobley takes the plaudits. Overall, across both records Mobley is somewhat straightjacketed by his employer limiting his soloing opportunities.

  10. Great musician, heart breaking story.

    Thats an interesting record, on my want list for quite a long time but never noticed it’s a 1957 session – most unreleased BNs are mid/late 60s. Good to know about the stereo mix…

  11. What a sad story. I didn’t know this about Hank. Have a lot of his stuff, and love his playing, but had never bothered to look up anything about the man. Shame on me.

    Thanks LJC.

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