Hasaan vs The Cymbal on Speakers Corner

26th June 2019

Title: The Max Roach Trio featuring the Legendary Hasaan

Label: Speakers Corner

It’s an intriguing album. Partly because Hasaan’s name is emblazoned upon the sleeve, retaining a larger font size even compared to Roach’s own name on the self-same sleeve. The inference is that this LP is not only a work of note but that Hasaan is also a man to be noted. 

And Hasaan was who exactly? He was a pianist, his stock in trade. The other reason for the intrigue is that this is Hasaan Ibn Ali’s (originally William Henry Langford, Jr) only album release. There is tell of other unreleased recordings out there…somewhere.

If you need a hook to hang this album on, you could say that Hasaan reflects tones from Thelonious Monk but principally the dissonant stylings of the tragically little-known Elmo Hope. 

Hasaan vs The Cymbal on Speakers Corner

Max Roach

But before we get to the music itself, let’s not forget Roach. A consummate jazz drummer, who turned away from using the bass drum as a point of grammar, instead relying on the ride cymbal, Roach tended to use the more powerful drums as a tool to express both shock value and to make a particular sonic point. Which is not to say that he was a stranger to silence, the latter was also part of his effective armoury.

The mastering on this LP is beautifully layered and structured. Take the Roach drum kit. His signature cymbal is way out front. That’s where the attention is, the rest of the drums are piled into a corner until required. Hasaan, on the other hand, is the meat in the sandwich on this LP. His work is dense, complex, melody is never deserted but his imagination kicks in all over the place and his keys interweave to create sonic architecture of the most compound kind, often with that cymbal in tow. 

Hasaan vs The Cymbal on Speakers Corner

This album, originally released in 1965 with Art Davis on bass (and don’t ignore that bass man, man, he’s the glue for the entire LP) is often a playful tussle, sometimes a playful tangle. Piano versus cymbal. Like two young squirrels chasing each other around a field, darting, changing direction at unexpected times, angles are formed and collapsed. The ear delights in the patterns formed and the tempos changed. And don’t see Hasaan as the singular avant here. The man was clever but Roach sticks with him all of the way. He ain’t no slouch either, you know.  

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