It has been years since the woefully unsung pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali recorded Metaphysics and, while its circuitous route to release is worth more than a little note, that story seems to have taken precedence over insight into and observation of the music itself. In keeping with its customarily astute archival approach, the Omnivore curating team included extensive liner notes by associate producer Lewis Porter, as well as co-producer Alan Sukoenig, both of which pieces maintain the focus on the creative aspect(s) of the title.
And there is more than a little to process in these recordings which took place over just two days in August and September 1965, originally produced by Atlantic Records vice-president of jazz, Nesuhi Ertegun. The ten cuts on this belated release include three alternate versions of Ali originals, in the form of truncated takes on "True Train," "Viceroy" and "Atlantic Ones," ample evidence of the wealth of imagination which the pianist-composer inspired in his accompanists, saxophonist Odean Pope, bassist Art Davis and drummer Kalil Madibut just as surely confirmation of the self- discipline at the heart of their shared musicianship.
Each of these shorter renditions stands on its own terms as a valid, concise mirror-image of the respective extended version which precedes it. In the course of those overall performances, for instance, "Atlantic Ones," which opens the formal album, features somewhat conventional rounds of solos that nevertheless do not turn merely rote; continual dialogue between the instrumentalists does more to highlight the fundamental melody and rhythm of the composition than improvisation by a single musician. Likewise, the foursome marshals its resources in a somewhat dissonant overture before launching into a wide-ranging exploration of "Viceroy" which, along with the self-referential "El Hasaan," echoes the work of Ali's label mate at the time John Coltrane (in much the same way the graphics of this package retain the label design of the era).
That continuity is perhaps not wholly unsurprising, since both artists worked with the same producer. But the aforementioned Ertegun displayed his own jazz pedigree in allowing the pianist, Pope, Davis and Kalil Madi to proceed apace for the almost-but-not-quite free-form likes of the title tune. At four minutes, "Epitome" serves as both pacing and set-up for "True Train," the longest track on Metaphysics; running just a second shy of eleven minutes, it is not simply a surfeit of repetition, but a free-wheeling exchange of motifs and themes deserving of the inspection they receive. Without a sense of hurry or hesitation, Ali tacitly encourages his fellow musicians to also proffer their ideas accordingly, and his provocative prodding in this context is bereft of his irascible personality traits as described in the essays here.
As appended to the recordings on the long-lost tape copy (missing only one number from the sessions to be deemed complete), the previously- mentioned outtakeslike the others restored and mastered by Michael Graves, engineer extraordinaireact as recapitulation of the robust results preceding them. Like the best albums in any genre, the music as presented takes on a life of its own, notwithstanding the circumstances of its recording and release. And yet Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album is a truly unique find, especially as an additional note in the twelve-page booklet indicates that there may be even more recordings to see the light of day from an artist whose previously-issued work resonates throughout the timeline of great jazz
Atlantic Ones; Viceroy; El Hasaan; Richard May Love Give Powell; Metaphysics; Epitome; True Train; True Train (Short Version); Viceroy (Short Version); Atlantic Ones (Short Version).
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