Title: Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album
Artist: Hasaan Ibn Ali
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: April 23, 2021
If Bud Powell defined bebop piano, then Hasaan Ibn Ali belongs to a group of pianists, including Thelonious Monk, Elmo Hope, and Herbie Nichols, who devoted themselves to extending the style into new territories. Or at least he should be in that group, and quite possibly would be if Atlantic Records had released this 1965 session as a follow-up to the Max Roach Trio’s Featuring the Legendary Hasaan LP. It’s a shame bordering on tragedy that Hasaan’s second and final commercial recording did not see the light of day until now. Had it been released at the time, it would have fit perfectly alongside the work of the many bop-rooted musicians who were exploring new paths in composition and improvisation during this exciting period of music.
Hasaan’s touch and rhythmic feel place him comfortably in the company of the above-mentioned pianist/composers, who were actually of an earlier jazz generation. Even more remarkable is how Hasaan, born in 1931, preserved those stylistic connections to the older school while favoring a busier approach to chord voicings and improvisation, with more notes, clusters, and a restless surrealism that sometimes suggest a commonality with Cecil Taylor (a pianist who was closer in age). Hasaan also reveals a playful sense of humor that is similar to that heard in Monk’s music.
Despite not having recorded or even worked very much, Hasaan’s startingly original style made him a legend during his own lifetime, and not just in his hometown of Philadelphia, as an innovator and an influence on John Coltrane. For this “lost” album, Hasaan is joined by Odean Pope, a disciple of the pianist and a tenor saxophonist who would go on to become a Philly legend in his own right. Pope, in his first professional recording, plays with a tone that is lighter than the full-bodied sound of his mature years, with a tart edge that might make you wonder how Jackie McLean would have sounded on tenor. Pope’s harmonic concept, though, is already fully developed, as it would have to be in order to negotiate this full set of challenging Hasaan originals.
The abstraction of Hasaan’s and Pope’s improvising belies their frequent use of 12- and 32- bar structures that were common practice among beboppers, as on “Atlantic Ones,” “Viceroy,” and “Metaphysics”. Other songs, like the beautiful ballad “Richard May Love Give Powell,” find the composer putting familiar building blocks together in innovative ways. Another tried-and-true device that serves as a connection to more mainstream jazz is Hasaan’s thematic use of riffs. There are seven different surviving compositions, three of which also appear in shorter alternate versions. The master takes are presented in the order in which they were recorded over two sessions. The last and longest tune, “True Train,” is perhaps the best, with a pensive melody and expansive form that work better in the medium-slow tempo of the master version than in the faster swing of the alternate take.
As the only substantial document of Hasaan’s playing until now, the Max Roach Trio album, while featuring the pianist as a performer and the composer of all the material, still sounds like a drummer’s record. So it is valuable and very telling to hear the pianist in full leadership mode, with bassist Art Davis (a holdover from the Roach session) and drummer Kalil Madi admirably willing and able to follow the leader. This quartet sounds less polished than the trio and the drummer less assured than Roach, but Hasaan’s improvising is even more aggressively adventurous than on the earlier session.
As explained in Alan Sukoenig’s excellent liner notes, Atlantic shelved the project when Hasaan was arrested for narcotics possession shortly after the recording session. From that point, Hasaan’s life was a largely tragic one that resulted in his death in 1981 in obscurity. The master tapes were destroyed in an Atlantic warehouse fire in 1978; these recordings are taken from a backup copy whose existence was, for many years, only a rumor. The resulting sound quality, while listenable, makes one long for the high fidelity of typical mid-60s Atlantic jazz LPs. Nevertheless, the rediscovery of this music is a joyful occasion, providing some long-deserved peace and justice for a true visionary who is surely deserving of his status as a legend.
Reviewed by Carlos E. Peña, University of Pittsburgh