For years, the only known recordings of the great Philadelphia-based pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali were on a 1964 recording auspiciously titled The Max Roach Trio featuring the Legendary Hasaan (Atlantic). Another recording was made but not released, then presumed lost. 57 years later—and 41 years after Hasaan’s death in 1980—the piano great is having a breakout season. Earlier in 2021, Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album was released to great and richly deserved acclaim. Now, the same team that brought forth Metaphysics emerges with two-and-a-half hours of solo Hasaan, Retrospect in Retirement of Delay: The Solo Recordings, and the results are a revelation.
Simply put, the pianist deserved the accolades afforded him in the billing of the 1964 recording. He is a powerful and original voice. There are elements of Monk, Bud, and Elmo Hope in his playing, but it’s no pastiche. He has synthesized these influences into a cohesive and potent style. Retrospect presents solo recordings made in the lounge of a dormitory at the University of Pennsylvania and a few other settings. He performs originals and classics, and it’s on the latter that Ali shines brightest. On “Cherokee,” his right hand creates a skittering symphony of dramatic and ornate runs. The freedom of the solo setting is a highlight of “Body and Soul,” as Hasaan plays with tempo and beat, making sudden stops and fascinating accents. On Monk’s “Off Minor,” he makes the theme even more harshly staccato in order to contrast with furiously elegant right-hand figures.
The booklet includes an essay by Matthew Shipp, who included a segment on Hasaan in his 2020 essay on Black Mystery School Pianists. It’s standard to hope that there’s more of Hasaan somewhere, but this current outpouring is worth repeated listens and study.