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Saturday, February 18, 2023

Pandelis Karayorgis Trio - The Hasaan, Hope & Monk Project (Driff Records, 2022)

By Stuart Broomer

In 2020 Matthew Shipp wrote a provocative article identifying Black Mystery School Pianists, a series of musicians with a distinct sonic/rhythmic identity that would distinguish them from mainstream jazz pianists. At times I find his discussion a little vague, in terms of whom he includes fully, those partially and those he excludes, but he’s consistently adamant that it can’t be taught in a jazz school. While one might debate who’s in and who’s out, whether halfway or otherwise, it’s an important distinction, even going so far as to include a single Caucasian pianist in the fold, Ran Blake. Consider those he includes—a school that begins with Thelonious Monk then proceeds with such immediate associates as Elmo Hope and Herbie Nichols, then proceeds with Randy Weston, Cecil Taylor and Mal Waldron to Hassan Ibn Ali and Andrew Hill then on to Sun Ra and Horace Tapscott. It’s a fascinating stream and it suggests much of Shipp’s own ancestral line.

Pianist Pandelis Karayorgis’s exploration of a significant component of that tradition was immediately inspired by the 2021 appearance of Metaphysics (Omnivore) an unreleased 1965 Atlantic recording by Hassan Ibn Ali, the brilliant and largely unknown Philadelphia musician who had worked on his harmonic and modal explorations with John Coltrane and who had a profound influence on McCoy Tyner’s style formation and vocabulary. The result is this hour-long CD by Karayorgis and his frequent associates, bassist Nate McBride and drummer Luther Gray. The repertoire alternates Karayorgis’s transcriptions of four of Hasaan’s Metaphysics pieces along with three compositions from Elmo Hope’s 1953-54 recordings and six of Monk’s classic works. The group of three follows the association of Monk and Hope and Hope’s influence on Hasaan.

There’s no easy way to wind one’s path through any of these composers’ works. Monk, for example, built pieces out of a collection of eccentricities that just happened to combine into works of genius. To some extent, the others followed his example in developing their own methodologies. Here Karayorgis manages to be both true to the works and to himself, managing smooth transit through craggy passages without tripping over outcrops or chiseling at sharp edges. There’s a technical brilliance fully in service to the music, embracing, opening and expanding it in a way that is true to the distinct identities of the works as well as their composers, but Karyorgis never veers into mere imitation. In a few instances McBride and Gray take the opening chorus, McBride’s powerful lower-register patterns (reminiscent here of Monk’s bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, another recently rediscovered major figure) at once emphasizing the oblique harmonies and slightly skewed propulsions of the material, the latter playfully declared as well in Gray’s rich elaboration of multiple states of time.

Ten studio recordings bracket three live recordings from The Lilypad in Cambridge, Massachusetts – Hope’s “Abdullah”, Monk’s “Evidence”, Hasaan’s “El Hasaan” – and they seem especially buoyant, playful complexities that transcend their composers’ frequent personal difficulties. Further on, Hasaan’s very Monk-like “Epitome” and his “Viceroy” (somehow at once swinging and elliptical with a fine solo by McBride that levitates into his upper register) surround Monk’s “Trinkle Tinkle”, a piece I can’t separate from Coltrane’s wondrous 1956 performance and which here somehow ties neatly to Hasaan’s association with Coltrane and Tyner. These ties are, by the way, made explicit in a 2021 2-CD set of Hasaan’s assorted unreleased recordings, Retrospect in Retirement of Delay: The Solo Recordings (Omnivore), a collection that effectively adds an essential figure to the history of jazz piano.


Gary Chapin said...

Great write up and I have purchased. The front paragraph about Shipp's writing is very interesting, especially since it calls out Mal Waldron. I was just listening to some Shipp and it's been occurring to me, lately, how Shipp's work in the middle range and his use of repeat figures quite reminds me of Waldron -- who I love. Thanks