More than a hunch expect the beginnings of a Hank Mobley resurgence this autumn. Cometh the hour cometh the man to roll with it. And that man is Eli Degibri. Well if you have heard him play whether live or on record you will know it is all about a certain tone, a deep feeling for jazz, and an improviser’s unerring intuition to shape a solo. As for Mobley, Blue Note collectors simply adore him.
A bit of background Degibri first made a splash on his superb quartet album Israeli Song with Brad Mehldau, the great Ron Carter and Al Foster, released in 2010. Who the heck was this guy anyway?
Then nothing. In 2013 through a stroke of luck I happened to be there in Soho at Pizza Express Jazz Club when Degibri, above, made his London debut as a leader after the Shearing Hour I helped put on that night.
That night Eli [rhymes with telly] was with Aaron Goldberg on piano, the bespectacled Barak Mori, providing a stimulating range of strong narrative departures on double bass, and the then 19-year-old new star of the drums, Ofri Nehemya.
Classic ballad ‘Body and Soul’, at the end of the second set, was the icing on the cake of a superb performance. Afterwards I chatted to him briefly and as an opening gambit said how much I admired a tattoo on his bare arm, the first thing that came into my head. He beamed.
Five years on just a matter of a little more than a month until release here is Eli says about the Mobley Soul Station project on his own website:
“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.” SG