Review Summary: A very good hard bop band, held back by one rusty cog in the machine.
When it comes to music, people who say that a name is just a name are kidding themselves. Sure, a bad name can be written off as just that, but a well-chosen one can completely alter the way you look at something, setting up a specific headspace for the listener before they even know what they're dealing with.
So I'd bet that if you asked a lot of jazz fans what the most soulful jazz albums ever were, a bunch of them would tell you that Soul Station
was one of them - all because of the name. Mobley's own tone as a player is as soulful and bluesy as all hell, and that, combined with the title, is enough to make this album seem like something more than it is. But ultimately, after a few listens, it starts to sink that this really isn't too different from any other album from the smoother end of hard bop's golden age. It's definitely not that much more soulful than, say, Saxophone Colossus
or Giant Steps
In fact, what most distinguishes this album from the other major jazz records of the period is the presence of one obvious weak link. Mobley and Blakey are on fine form, but Wynton Kelly's playing is just too cheesy at times here, and is the only thing that really dates this album. Given that he plays one of the greatest piano parts in all of jazz (Coltrane's "Naima"), it's a spectacular bollock to drop - he lowers the standard every time he appears, whether it's by his odd choices for chord extensions, or his solos, which are so obvious and basic in their usage of the blues scale that they almost sound like vintage rock'n'roll taken down a few BPM. That might not sound too bad, but it just doesn't work in this context.
It's a damn shame, because the rest of the band are absolutely solid, as are the compositions. It could have been a classic if not for Kelly - perhaps it's best to focus on the good bits, which can stand up tall against all but the very best hard bop.