[Review] Hank Mobley/Al Cohn/John Coltrane/Zoot Sims: Tenor Conclave (1957)

A Prestige all-star session featuring four up-and-coming tenor sax players, including two (Sims, Cohn) from Woody Herman’s band.

Kronomyth 0.5: The four tenors.

This is a treat for tenor saxophonistas: four tenors on four tracks, four your pure listening enjoyment. These early Prestige All-Star recordings are an embarrassment of riches, really, as they arranged titans like chess pieces in endless (and timeless) configurations.

Tenor Conclave is a meeting built on mutual respect; the quartet of horns and the rhythm section of Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Art Taylor play together very nicely, each bringing their unique voice to the material without shouting on top of one another. The opening number from Hank Mobley gets the session off to a fun start, with lots of solos and a lighthearted spirit throughout. “Just You, Just Me” is another brisk-paced number with fast, articulated solos from this fab foursome; it’s the loosest of the tracks in terms of performance (the solo trading at the end gets a little out of hand), but it’s a hoot to hear.

“Bob’s Boys,” the second Mobley original, is a bit more businesslike but still swings, and you can begin to make out the individual soloists while realizing that it doesn’t really matter who plays what or even what they play, but this preserved moment of great artists at play that matters. “How Deep Is The Ocean” is a soulful ballad with understated accompaniment and some gorgeous solos. Here we encounter the true province of the tenor, able to plumb the depths of sadness and beauty with artful grace. A bowed bass solo from Paul Chambers breaks things up, although I’ve always found it a little jarring. (Is there a bass player who hasn’t done the bowed bass bit at least once?)

Compared to Prestige’s Interplay for 2 Trumpets and 2 Tenors, Tenor Conclave is a more natural setting, even if the idea of four tenor sax players on one song seems unnatural. The music is essentially written for a quartet with lots of tenor solos; the moments where the four play together are relatively few. By contrast, the double trumpet/tenor lineup of Interplay was unwieldy at times. While it wouldn’t make my (imaginary) list of ten essential Coltrane recordings, Tenor Conclave is a small feast for tenor sax fans, although feel free to skip ahead to dessert, since “How Deep Is The Ocean” is the best part.

Read more John Coltrane reviews

Original LP Version

A1. Tenor Conclave (Hank Mobley) (11:05)
A2. Just You, Just Me (Jesse Greer/Raymond Klages) (9:29)
B1. Bob’s Boys (Hank Mobley) (8:26)
B2. How Deep Is The Ocean (Irving Berlin) (15:04)

The Players

Paul Chambers (bass), Al Cohn (tenor saxophone), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Red Garland (piano), Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), Zoot Sims (tenor saxophone), Art Taylor (drums). Supervised by Bob Weinstock; recording by Rudy Van Gelder.

The Plastic

Recorded on September 7, 1956 and released on mono elpee in April 1957* in the US (Prestige, PRLP 7074). *First appeared in 4/27/57 issue of Billboard.

  1. Re-released on elpee in 1962 in the US (Prestige, PRST 7249) with different cover.
  2. Re-issued on compact disc on December 17, 1990 in the US (Original Jazz Classics, OJCCD-127).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in 1992 in Japan (Prestige, VICJ-23707).
  4. Re-released on expanded compact disc on September 6, 2011 (Essential Jazz Classics) with Cattin’ With Coltrane And Quinichette.
  5. Re-issued on 200g vinyl elpee in 2012 in the US (Analogue Productions, 7074) and on SACD in 2014 in the US (Analogue Productions, 7074).
  6. Re-issued on limited edition 140g clear vinyl elpee in 2014 in Europe (Doxy, 2010) with 1962 reissue cover.

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