Early in 2021, Omnivore Recordings released Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album by enigmatic Philadelphia pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali. The set, thought lost for nearly 60 years, was his only leader date (he did compose and play on The Max Roach Trio featuring the Legendary Hasaan). Retrospect in Retirement of Delay: The Solo Recordings contains two hours of unreleased, informal recordings from 1962 to 1965 made by college friends Alan Sukoenig and saxophonist Dave Shrier on a portable Norelco tape recorder. Ali transforms standards from Rodgers & Hart to Thelonious Monk, and offers some compelling originals, transmuted via his unfettered musical mind and athletic hands. The tapes have been housed at Rutgers University's Institute of Jazz Studies for decades.
Disc one begins with Rodgers & Hart's "Falling in Love with Love." It crisscrosses the composer's melody with "Sheik of Araby" and "They Can't Take That Away from Me," bridged by canny flights of rhythmic and harmonic extrapolation that alternately recall Bud Powell and Art Tatum, but they're offered in such a complex harmonic syntax they could only belong to Ali. There is a labyrinthine, ten-minute read of Ray Noble's "Cherokee," that carves out new musical terrain in its use of chordal extension. Also included is the original solo recording of Ali's "Atlantic Ones" that is more bracing and interrogatory than either version on Metaphysics. His "Off My Back Jack" reveals an expert command of both jazz and classical vocabularies with wide-open chord clusters that swing between stride and bop cadences. Monk's "Off Minor" is a wonder, filled with humor, sharp intellect, and an innate understanding of the sound universe the composer drew from. He stretches the harmony across a barrelhouse stomp then reverses it as chord voicings clash, commingle and diverge amid fleet right-hand lines. The 11-minute "On Green Dolphin Street" opens with a dramatic Bartok-ian intro, which he tucks in his pocket for most of the remainder as he enacts a tonal, chromatic, and timbral architecture that cuts across jazz, the Great American Songbook, blues, bop, and Scott Joplin. Disc two includes the two-part original "True Trains" that weds the harmonic elegance of Ellington to a knotty rhythmic syntax that recalls Powell's, with an adventurous use of time signatures that is pure Ali. At over 13 minutes, Van Heusen and Burke's "It Could Happen to You" finds Ali's intellect expressing as many alternate and angular expressions of melody with profound, unshakeable lyricism. The closing read of Consuelo Velázquez's historic bolero "Besame Mucho" registers all of the original's drama, with a dark, foreboding intimacy expressed with heartfelt yet kaleidoscopic harmonic invention. There are snippets of Ali in conversation throughout -- and one selection of him reading an original prose poem. The set is complemented by a booklet containing rare photos and essays by pianist Matthew Shipp and Sukoenig, and recollections from friends and musicians. Further, engineer Michael Graves' glorious restoration work deserves a Grammy. Retrospect in Retirement of Delay is a monumental, profound addition to Ali's legacy.