Hassan Ibn Ali
Reaching For the Stars: Trios/Duos/ Solos
This writer’s two previous reviews of the legendary pianist Hassan Ibn Ali appeared in another outlet so it’s probably best to provide some background information. Reaching For the Stars: Trios/Duos/ Solos is the third collection released by Omnivore Records, another look into the previously unheard recordings of Hasaan Ibn. Prior to Omnivore unearthing these recordings from the Philadelphia pianist said to influence John Coltrane’s ‘sheets of sound,” the pianist had issued only one recording, The Max Roach Trio Featuring The Legendary Hasaan in 1965. It became a kind of underground jazz classic and Atlantic Records recorded Hasaan later that year, but the resulting album was shelved, and then thought lost, until it was restored from tape copies of acetates and issued nearly a half century later in 2021 as Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album. Metaphysics by Ominivore, furthering the legend and legacy of Hasaan’s innovative playing and songs. Retrospect In Retirement Of Delay: The Solo Recordings, another collection of previously unissued performances, followed later that same year. The reaction and demand now have the record label tirelessly returning to the well for eleven previously unissued recordings produced for release by Grammy® award-winning producer Cheryl Pawelski and ASCAP award-winning writer Alan Sukoenig, plus a new essay from pianist, composer & writer, Ethan Iverson. This package is worth obtaining simply for the brilliance of Iverson’s notes.
This collection, like the others, has been restored and mastered by Grammy® award-winning engineer Michael Graves. The Trios feature the late legendary bassist Henry Grimes (Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner, Sonny Rollins) and drummer Kalil Madi (Freddie McCoy, Mongo Santamaria—as well as Hasaan’s Metaphysics), performing six tracks (four of which appeared in their studio versions on The Max Roach Trio Featuring The Legendary Hasaan.) It also adds three songs with vocalist Muriel Gilliam, aka Muriel Winston, and a pair of solo portraits of the master pianist. It will be available on CD, digital, and as a double-LP vinyl.
One of the first reactions you’ll have when listening to Hassan is his dazzling speed. His percussive style, as Iverson so clearly describes in his notes, emanates from Monk and more directly from the major influence Hassan cites, Elmo Hope. Iverson’s essay describes the two major schools of post WWII pianists, the Bud Powell and the Thelonious Monk camps, slotting Hassan into the latter but clearly also influenced by the former. Hassan has so much strength and fluidity in both his right and left hands, that the piano practically becomes a ‘larger than life” instrument. Yes, there are echoes of McCoy Tyner, a Philadelphian who was likely influenced by Hassan, but the thunderous sound of Hassan is arguably even greater. His genius though can best be appreciated in the words of today’s pianists rather than yours truly, so we’ll depart from the regular routine of reviews to bring you some excerpts on just one of the two solo pieces (Really the best part of this collection as singer Muriel just doesn’t connect somehow. One caveat though, the trio pieces not only reveal stellar pianism from Hassan but noteworthy bass from Grimes). In any case, here is the commentary on Hassan’s twelve minute plus rendering of a song from 1929, “After You’ve Gone.”
Ethan Iverson – “…This performance is frankly unbelievable. Never before have I heard a hitherto unknown track and thought “Maybe this will recalibrate the history books.” …part of the shock is how much Bud Powell there is in this “After You’ve Gone.” The left hand is solid as a rock, and the right is a form of burning bebop.” Iverson sent the track to pianists that he respected. Here is the reaction from Jason Moran. “Jeez! Hassan invents new registers of the piano. His piano seems to both climb higher and dive lower than other pianos. It’s an assaultive marathon that showcases his physical strength. This durational level of intensity energy is overwhelming. Much of what I hear is simply the shape of his hands. I wish I could see how he rolled his hand around, as it makes me think of Don Pullen, John Hicks, or Matthew Shipp rolling around so elegantly. But Hassan has so much ferocity in his attack. It’s feverishly exhilarating. He’s dunking the song in fire.”
Enough said. Assuming you listen to this one, you’ll quickly run to hear the others too. Even today’s pianists, having heard from two of the best in those quotes, are simply in awe. You will be too.
- Jim Hynes
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