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Reach Out! (1968)

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Hank Mobley

Reach Out was one of the few times Hank Mobley left behind driving, aggressive hard bop, choosing to concentrate on lightly grooving bop and soul-jazz instead. Essentially, the session resulted in the most commercially oriented record he made, complete with two pop covers ("Reach Out (I'll Be There)," "Goin' Out of My Head") and a laidback, swinging vibe. That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but the band -- an impressive lineup of Woody Shaw (trumpet, flugelhorn), George Benson (guitar), Lamont Johnson (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums) -- sounds constrained by the material and their desire to make the music appeal to a wide audience. Things rarely are worse than on "Reach Out," where the group not only fails to lay down a groove, but they often sound on the verge of falling apart, especially during Higgins' poorly timed breaks. They recover shortly afterward, but no one sounds particularly enthusiastic, including Mobley. In fact, Mobley's presence on the record feels strangely minimal. Only during "Good Pickin's" -- a laidback bop original that's easily the best thing here -- does he come alive, weaving a spell with long, liquid lines, but its subtle grace just illustrates the problems with this curiously bland record. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine