Eli Degibri : Tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Tom Oren : Piano
Tamir Shmerling : Bass
Eviatar Slivnik : Drums
Soul Station Track List1. Remember
2. This I Dig Of You
3. Dig Dis
4. If I Should Lose You
5. Split Feelings
6. Soul Station
7. Dear Hank
Soul Station Liner Notes by Derek AnsellLet me take you on a journey. It begins way back in February 1960 when saxophonist Hank Mobley arrived at Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey recording studio to lay down the tracks for his new record. He was well prepared having rehearsed the music previously with his sidemen, one of the very best rhythm sections possible to find back then, Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers , bass and Art Blakey on drums. The music chosen was the same as the record you are about to play, minus the extra track, Dear Hank. Four good originals by Mobley, one of them a funky, soul type blues and two rarely played but sturdy standards. It was recorded by the man most jazz musicians thought was the best in the business, Rudy Van Gelder and issued as Blue Note LP 4031. It was bought, at first, by a relatively small but informed number of real modern jazz enthusiasts, received a rather good but hardly a rave review in Down Beat and began its journey, down through the years, gradually, if painfully slowly, becoming acknowledged as Hank Mobley’s best ever single recorded album, his masterpiece.
With a very few if notable exceptions, Soul Station has not been noted by critics and jazz enthusiasts as one of the great jazz records of the 20th century; not in the way that Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colosuss or John Coltrane’s Giant Steps were hailed. British critic and musician Dave Gelly did pronounce it as Mobley’s masterpiece and ‘on a par with Saxophone Colossus’ although he was one of the very few to praise it highly. But let us not in any case, make comparisons; as somebody said a long time ago comparisons are odious. Let us instead continue our journey along the road of progress of a jazz masterpiece and look at a new and exciting new recording by saxophonist Eli Degibri and his sterling rhythm section and his tribute to Hank Mobley with seven strong tracks that may well, in the fullness of time, become another recorded jazz masterpiece and, due to the more enlightened state of most of today’s jazz commentators and enthusiasts, reach that exalted status much quicker than Hank’s album did. Eli Degibri’s CD is a tribute to Hank Mobley with his quartet playing all six of the selections that Hank played on the original Soul Station disc and keeping much of the relaxed feel of that original session fifty-eight years ago. But it is much more than that.
The best jazz soloists do not copy or imitate but soon develop their own unique method of expression. Degibri took what he wanted from whom he wanted to take and, as American critic Joe Goldberg put it in his note to Mobley’s original LP ‘everyone does that, the difference between genius and hackwork is the manner in which it is done.’ He too, has emerged with a definite statement to make. So while this album is a heartfelt tribute to Mobley it is, first and foremost an example of Eli Degibri creating a strong, personal jazz statement.
The tribute to Mobley comes in the way Eli sets up each selection. Take for example Remember, the Irving Berlin standard that kicks off the Mobley disc and this album. Eli begins by playing the first few bars in a relaxed, lyrical fashion, much like Hank’s version but he has soon segued into his own intense, flowing solo that is a picture of his personal thoughts on this piece of music. Then there is Soul Station, Hank’s blues and the title track of his original recording.
Once again Eli takes the opening theme statement gently and smoothly although his tempo is faster than Hank’s. He is very soon fashioning his own story on this soulful piece, and a fascinating story it is too. The ballad If I Should l Lose You is an even better example. Eli’s opening notes are gentle, full of the pain caused by the possibility of losing somebody close and again not unlike Hank’s sound to begin but he is soon deeply engrossed in expressing his own deep feelings in this, possible, situation. The notes tumble out lyrically and are made to fit the structure of the song, much as Mobley used to do although both these musicians do it in their own sweet way. As if to underline his personal approach Degibri plays Split Feelings on soprano sax rather than tenor. On This I Dig Of You, the saxophonist, again on soprano, and pianist feature a transcribed solo that Eli took from Wynton Kelly’s original on the Mobley album, played here in unison with Tom Oren. It is Eli’s nod to Kelly’s genius. The Mobley ambience throughout the track however is there to be felt and heard and paradoxically appears to be because of the change of instrument.
This I Dig Of You motors along with a tasty soprano solo but also points up the contribution of this fine rhythm section driving the unit through every selection. These are the tracks that Mobley also recorded but this album includes Eli’s original Dear Hank. This slow blues is reminiscent of Mobley in every bar and sounds like just the sort of composition he might have written if he were around today. Dig the melodic, pulsing solo by Tom Oren on piano and note the strong firm bass of Tamir Shmerling and the driving but unobtrusive drumming of Eviatar Slivnik. This quartet is cohesive and together throughout; they sound as though they have been playing together for years but in actuality this is a new quartet.
So now we are at the end of the first part of the journey towards sealing Mobley’s record for posterity and signalling arguably the best record to date of the Eli Degibri Quartet. A tribute to Mobley’s Soul Station was long overdue but few, I suspect, could have done it half as well as this quartet. If you haven’t played the record yet this, now, is your second and final phase of the journey and the integration of Soul Station, volumes 1 (1960) & 2 (2018) into the modern jazz hall of fame.
Dear Hank — Essay by Eli DegibriRecently I heard from a friend of mine that her brother bought an interesting birthday present for their mother: a DNA ancestry test.
I’ve always thought that we jazz musicians also have many musical ancestors, and wished there was a similar DNA test for musicians. It would be a fascinating read to learn, for example, who are Sonny Rollins’s musical parents, uncles, and second or third-degree relatives and so forth.
If I were to take such a test I’m pretty sure Hank Mobley would come somewhere in the top of my familial chain. Mother? Uncle?
Another of my dearest musical ancestors, the genius Miles Davis, wrote in his autobiography a small paragraph about Hank:
Sonny Stitt left the band sometime around the beginning of 1961. I replaced him with Hank Mobley, and we went into the studio to record Someday My Prince Will Come in March 1961....
That spring of 1961 – April I think it was – I decided to drive out to California, for a gig in San Francisco at the Blackhawk. I had been playing at the Village Vanguard when I was in New York, but the music was starting to bore me because I didn't like what Hank Mobley was playing in the band...Playing with Hank just wasn't fun for me; he didn't stimulate my imagination.
For a son (myself) it’s hard to hear your father (Miles) talk bad about your mother (Hank). Ever since I’ve wondered if maybe there’s something wrong with me for loving Hank’s playing so much if my Daddy didn’t. Fortunately, when you grow up you realize you can disagree even with the people you admire the most, including your closest ‘family members’. That even they can be mistaken. Talk tougher than they are. Even perhaps forget why they once fell in love.
Hank Mobley did something with his saxophone playing that no one else could. This is the source of his unique genius: Hank was able to be tender in an era where ‘hard' bop was the main platform for emotional expression. Unlike the tenderness that came from the West Coast style (Chet Baker and Stan Getz for example), Hank's lyricism still had that Afro-American soulfulness. This made his playing confusing to many people. Remember that Hank collaborated with some of the “roughest" and “toughest" musicians of his time, such as Miles and Blakey. He was a mirror to their gentle side. He was an extension of their soul… the part that perhaps they were afraid to always show. Remember it was Miles himself who asked Hank to join his band. And that for a musician there is no higher declaration of love.
Hank’s playing breaks my heart every time I listen to him. With his loud whisper, he says: I’m here and I don’t have to be grandiose about it. Just come a little closer and take a glimpse into my soul – it’s both fragile and beautiful.
This recording is my way to say thank you to one of my musical heroes. His DNA flows in my blood, in my veins. I am for sure a better person and a better musician thanks to you – Dear Hank.