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Newly Unearthed 1965 Album Represents Hasaan Ibn Ali's Posthumous Vindication

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. The late Philadelphia pianist and composer Hasaan Ibn Ali recorded only two albums. The first was a celebrated 1964 session titled "The Max Roach Trio Featuring The Legendary Hasaan." The following year, he recorded a quartet date that went unreleased and was long believed lost. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says its rediscovery is cause for renewed celebration.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Jazz folk can be quick to compare any eccentric composer pianist to Thelonious Monk. With Hasaan Ibn Ali, the comparison is less misplaced than usual. His compositions and his quartet's rhythm have a similarly jaunty quality. But Hasaan doesn't sound like Monk at the piano. His solos have their own hectic quality, with lots of busy runs near the top of the keyboard.

(SOUNDBITE OF HASAAN IBN ALI'S "ATLANTIC ONES")

WHITEHEAD: That's from the tune "Atlantic Ones" from pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali's newly unearthed 1965 album "Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Session," (ph) now out on Omnivore. Hasaan had a knack for writing memorable tunes, like "Viceroy." Its main earworm is pinched from an old "Viceroy" cigarette jingle. But Hasaan adds some catchy phrases of his own.

(SOUNDBITE OF HASAAN IBN ALI'S "ATLANTIC ONES")

WHITEHEAD: On tenor saxophone is another Philadelphian, a longtime member of Max Roach's quartet, Odean Pope, making his recording debut at 22. Pope obviously dug Philly hero John Coltrane, but he had a ruder, more obstreperous tone. He's still with us, by the way. Like the leader, Odean Pope might sound orderly and hectic by turns.

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WHITEHEAD: Hasaan Ibn Ali was sure of himself. At sessions, he'd push other pianists off the bench to take over. Still, horn players might walk off the bandstand when Hasaan sat in, unwilling or unable to follow his concepts. Hasaan's busy right-hand runs remind me of another lightning bolt pianist who came along in the mid-'60s, Don Pullen.

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WHITEHEAD: There are a couple of takes of three pieces on "Metaphysics," so we can hear how the soloists employ certain motifs at certain points from take to take, even as they improvise the particulars. The quartet's push-pull rhythm team keeps a loose rein on the proceedings. Drummer Kalil Madi was usually heard in more mainstream settings. Ditto the holdover from the previous year's LP, "The Max Roach Trio Featuring The Legendary Hasaan," bass virtuoso Art Davis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WHITEHEAD: So the question remains, why did Atlantic not release this vibrant, tuneful 1965 session at the time? It may have had something to do with a slightly out of tune piano, but more to do with the fact Hasaan Ibn Ali was jailed on drug charges shortly thereafter. Thus, he was unable to promote the album on live appearances and created an awkward public relations problem for his respectable label. Sadly, "Metaphysics" was Hasaan Ibn Ali's last shot at the big time. He never recorded again and died in obscurity in 1981. Its belated release now is his posthumous vindication.

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GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of the book "Play The Way You Feel: The Essential Guide to Jazz Stories On Film." He reviewed "Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Session" (ph) by pianist and composer Hasaan Ibn Ali.

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GROSS: After we take a short break, Maureen Corrigan will review a new novel inspired by the life of the third African American woman to earn a medical degree in this country. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALLEN TOUSSAINT'S "BRIGHT MISSISSIPPI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.