Hasaan Ibn Ali

June 23, 2021

Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album
Omnivore Recordings OVCD-411

Evidence keeps mounting that Thelonious Monk was less of an outlier as pianist/ composer than is generally thought. Since most Jazz history rests on the Great Man theory there was only space for one quirky stylist in those categories until Cecil Taylor arrived. Monk was eventually accepted into the Jazz Pantheon. Yet careful study reveals others 1950s/1960s pianists as idiosyncratically skilled as the New Yorker, but vastly under-recorded. They include Boston’s Lowell Davidson Harlem’s Herbie Nichols and Philadelphia’s Hasaan Ibn Ali (1931-1980). Known for one 1964 trio LP with Max Roach, the recently unearthed Metaphysics doubles Ali’s discography and confirms he didn’t need Roach to impress. Instead the Ali compositions feature tenor saxophonist Odean Pope, a long-time member of Roach’s bands, bassist Art Davis, who worked with just about everyone at the time and journeyman drummer Kalil Madi

Recorded by Atlantic Records which planned it as a follow up to the trio LP, Metaphysics was shelved when the pianist was jailed for drug possession. Afterwards Ali, always a loner became increasingly withdrawn and erratic and died without ever recording again. Thought lost the session was discovered by happy accident in 2018. From a 2021 perspective rather than far-out the 10-track disc now sounds like an advanced FreeBop date with Pope’s slashing vibrations its main focus. Meanwhile the composer while thoroughly in the contemporary gestalt improvises with that mixture of Stride and Bop thought exclusive to Monk, Both bassist and drummer are outstanding accompanists, the latter powerfully unobtrusive, the former’s thick thumps often evolving on double counterpoint with Ali’s penetrating key tinkles.

Although there are snatches of standards in the solos and unexpected discursions, results are imposingly original. One standout is “El Hasaan”, which links stop-time story telling with an exotic twist that evolves with carefully shaped notes as it references Soul and Stride, but is unexpectedly cut off at the end. Another “True Train” is a finger-snapping grainy line built around Pope’s Trane-like slurs and Ali’s key tinkles at the highest pitches.

Throughout unexpected keyboard motifs and bright reed tones are constantly striking and imposing. The disc confirms Ali’s dexterity, burnishes his reputation and makes one wonder what other so-far unearthed musical gems exist.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Atlantic Ones 2. Viceroy 3. El Hasaan 4. Richard May Love Give Powell 5. Metaphysics 6. Epitome 7. True Train 8. True Train (Short Version) 9. Viceroy (Short Version) 10. Atlantic Ones (Short Version)

Personnel: Odean Pope (tenor saxophone); Hasaan Ibn Ali (piano); Art Davis (bass) and Kalil Madi (drums)