Pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali’s (Musical Link To Coltrane), Unreleased LP ‘Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Sessions’ Gets Its Due (ALBUM REVIEW)

Lost albums invariably bring with them compelling stories. Try this one – from the liner notes. A master tape sits in an Atlantic Records warehouse in Long Branch, NJ for 13 years, the music it contains never released to the public. And then in 1978, the warehouse is engulfed in flames. A huge volume of tapes is destroyed an enormous loss. But this tape was of particular significance. Why? Because it held the unissued second recording on an extraordinary pianist and composer who had been known – and continues to this day to be known – on the basis of but a single album.} The pianist, Hassan Ibn Ali, whom saxophonist Odean Pope calls, “the most advanced player ever to develop in Philadelphia,” had practiced intensively with John Coltrane in the early ‘50s and is thought by Pope and others to have been the influence behind Coltrane’s so-called sheets of sound as well as the harmonic approach that underlay Coltrane’s breakthrough Giant Steps, and also, with Earl Bostic, one of the two role models behind Coltrane’s strict work ethic.

Shortly after completing this recording with Pope on tenor saxophone, Art Davis on bass, and Kali Madi on drums, Hasaan was incarcerated for narcotics possession, annoying Atlantic to the point where they never released the album. Eventually, a rumor began to circulate over the years that a copy existed in the Atlantic offices. Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who passed in 1977 before the fire, told Pope that he wanted to produce a recording of the session, which would suggest, not prove, that he had heard a dubbed copy. But attempts to track down such a copy were always futile.

So, to finish the story about the lost tapes. Alan Sukoenig, who provided the extensive liners, relays this: {And then, one day in the winter of 2017, I received an email from Lewis Porter, a music professor at Rutgers University’s Newark campus, the author of the definitive biography of John Coltrane, editor of the voluminous John Coltrane Reference, and an actively performing jazz pianist. In the email, Porter, motivated by discussions he’s been having with a few Philadelphia friends in which Hasaan Ibn Ali’s name periodically came up, asked a few questions about Hasaan. In my response, I raised the matter of the long-standing rumor. Porter recalled an old friend, Patrick Milligan, who, years before, was at Rhino Records and worked alongside Joel Dorn on the Rhino/Atlantic Jazz catalog releases. He urged me to contact Milligan, and he in turn immediately contacted two friends of his with access to the Warner tape library. And the rumor was quickly confirmed. The tape copy, apparently made between 1971 and 1977, had been sitting there for as long as 46 years.}

There are several authorities at work here in the extensive booklet but foremost among them is Pope, a Philadelphia founding father of jazz saxophone, prolific composer, arranger, and treasured educator. His statement about the most advanced player to ever develop in Philadelphia is a mind-blowing considering the esteemed lineage of players who began their careers there. Pope also says about Hasaan, “He had ideas as deep as the sea, I never heard anybody, even today play like that.” Pope was a member of the Max Roach Quartet for over two decades and it was Roach who first convinced Atlantic to record Hasaan, resulting in 1964’s The Max Roach Trio Featuring the Legendary Hasaan. And, as stated, these sessions were recorded in August and September of 1965. 

Now Ominvore Recordings is presenting this long-lost restored and mastered piece of jazz history – certainly indicative of the avant-garde sounds of the times and similar in some respects to Coltrane’s work yet Hasaan has a piano style all his own, a lighter touch with unique harmonic ideas and unpredictable, obtuse, angular lines not unlike Monk. Pope, now 83, grew up in the same neighborhood of extraordinary musicians like Coltrane, Johnny Coles, Sonny Fortune, and Lee Morgan, and Benny Golson. Admittedly his sound is a distillation of several styles, and perhaps the best reference point is Archie Shepp, who he did not grow up with but was/is a contemporary. Of note, as recently as last year Pope had booked a date with his legendary Saxophone Choir where he was featured aside Pharaoh Sanders and James Carter.

Grammy-winning engineer Michael Graves restored the sound from the long lost acetate copies and with notes from producer Sukoenig and Porter. Sukoenig and the aforementioned Grammy-nominated Milligan along with Grammy-winning producer Cheryl Pawelski all collaborated to make this a reality. It features the seven surviving tracks from the album sessions along with three surviving alternate takes.

At the time this was a radical sound and the intervening years have led many of us, like this writer, to find it more than palatable. Nonetheless this quote speaks volumes about Hasaan’s lack of acceptance at the time. “Yet he was rarely employed, even by musicians who respected his playing and his knowledge, thus leaving him with little chance to develop an audience. When he sat down at the piano at the woodbine, an after-hours club in Philadelphia, all the horn players would leave the stand for they were unable to play with him, so unfamiliar were his harmonic concepts.”

Serious jazz buffs and Coltrane fans will find this to be a must-have. Revel in it. 


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