Released in 1960, Hank Mobley's record Soul Station boasts the cast of Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Art Blakey on drums in addition to his own tenor saxophone playing. Soul Station is known for being one of Mobley's most successful records but if you are not familiar with his sound, let me put it like this. Mobley was once referred to as the "Middle weight champion of the tenor saxophone" by Leonard Feather because his playing was not as aggressive as John Coltrane and not as mellow as Stan Getz. For Feather, Mobley was the middle man with a balance of mood, tone, and style.
This middle approach makes the music palatable and easy to enjoy, regardless of what your musical taste may be. I personally have been waking up to this song on my alarm for a little over a month now and I have come to decide that compositionally, This I Dig Of You as a composition, has as much balance and equilibrium as any jazz song out there.
Hank Mobley: This I Dig Of You
The song opens with an 8 measure piano intro before the head melody comes in. In conjunction, this intro is mirrored at the end of the piece with a corresponding 8 measure outro gesture. Subsequently, the head is broken down into two sections which balance at 16 measures a piece. Let's call these parts A and B. A begins with the entrance of the saxophone and B is marked by the more aggressive drum entrance. Finally, this whole section is performed twice before moving on. However, the musicians will return to this layout of the head after their improvisations to round out the form before the outro gesture.
So far so good.
Now we have entered the improvisational part of the performance. Wynton Kelly begins by taking a piano solo. His solo lasts the length of head melody performed three times. This gives way to Hank Mobley's solo which is double the length of Wynton Kelly's – he is the marquee name after all. Finally, Art Blakey performs a bitchin' drum solo that matches the length of Wynton Kelly's improv time.
If we put all of the notes aside and just look at the form, we see that each section has a mirroring counterpart that matches in length and the result is an incredibly balanced composition. This is no accident; Hank knew what he was doing when he wrote this one. It is the simplicity of the song form which allows the musicians space and freedom to explore the range of their instrumental capacity during the solos. Meanwhile, the listener is afforded the comfort and understanding of a simple compositional form to ease the listening experience, whether they know it or not.
Speaking in extreme generalities, this is pretty much the compositional design for a lot of the jazz canon. Give the audience a melody that they can easily remember, improvise over the harmonies that comprise that melody as a means of developing ideas or showcasing technique, and then return to the melody so that the audience has a sense closure and cohesion. When you boil it down to its simplest form there really isn't much to it. However, what separates the greats from the rest is their ability to consistently produce a compelling and emotionally impactful product within this form. Hank Mobley and company achieves this.
If you want to purchase the rest of this record it is available here and is worth your time and money. You dig?