>The Hasaan, Hope & Monk Project
Karayorgis has throughout his career explored Monk's music in solo, duo, and trio formats. Having developed an appetite for Monk's music, a pianist can explore the music of similarly idiosyncratic pianists. Often, their eccentric approaches become less abstruse when set side-by-side with Monk's. Until the year 2021 only one disc The Max Roach Trio Featuring The Legendary Hasaan (Atlantic, 1965) made the pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali available to listeners. We were blessed in 2021 with the discovery of two 'lost' tapes from the 1960s, Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album (Omnivore Recordings, 2021) and Retrospect In Retirement Of Delay: The Solo Recordings (Omnivore Recordings, 2021). Karayorgis has covered Ibn Ali's music in the past, and here he also adds the music of Elmo Hope to this trio session.
Together with longtime collaborators, bassist Nate McBride and drummer Luther Gray, the pianist tackles six Monk compositions, five by Ibn Ali, and three by Hope. The trio takes on the compositions, playing them in a straightforward manner, as if to say that Monk's music—or for that matter Ibn Ali or Hope's compositions—are uncomplicated. It's just that the trio makes them sound so natural and unforced. McBride's extended intro to "Off Minor" tips the ear to the Monkian finger dance to come and the swirl of "Criss Cross," and "Trinkle Tinkle" are comfort food for the soul. Less familiar yet equally as uplifting and heartening are the Ibn Ali and Hope compositions. Each are idiosyncratic and distinct in their approach. Hope's music is fashioned by a lyrical swing and Karayorgis arranges the music for a complete trio sound. Because of their quirkiness, Ibn Ali's compositions might easily be misidentified as those of unheard Monk compositions. His music and that of Hope (or Herbie Nichols for that matter) are well worth preserving, especially in the hands of a trio such as this.
Liner Notes by Ted Panken:
But on The Hasaan, Hope and Monk Project, 37 years after he moved from Greece to Boston, Karayorgis takes “a leap of faith,” addressing “the material whose DNA has shaped so much of my musical language” on its own terms of engagement, without embellishment, situating himself somewhere in between the straight-ahead attitude of bop-generation Black American Monkphiles like Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, and Kenny Barron (himself an acolyte of Hassan as a Philadelphia teenager) and the brilliant 12-tone Monk inventions of German outcat Alexander Von Schlippenbach or the sardonic-ironic soliloquies of Dutch saboteur Misha Mengelberg. He continues: “I feel that I can approach these songs from a different angle now, without having to deconstruct as much as I used to, and bring different aspects of the compositions into play.”
The project gestated with the 2021 release of a “lost,” never-released 1965 quartet album by Hassan titled Metaphysics, which included several previously unrecorded tunes. “I immediately transcribed five of them,” Karayorgis says. “I had an intuitive urge to bring together these different composers and do an album totally different from my recent work – all AABA forms, which I haven’t done in many years. Surrounding Monk’s compositions with pieces by Hasaan and Hope creates an interesting context full of musical and historical connections. I don’t think there’s one thing that threads them all together. Monk and Hasaan are perhaps closer together in their angularity and surprising ideas, unique harmonies and overall ‘out there-ness’ both as composers and as improvisers. With Hope it’s more subtle and nuanced, as he works within the prevailing harmonic and gestural conventions of the time while maintaining an extremely strong voice of his own. From what we read about his close musical relationship and friendship with Monk, including exploring musical ideas together, co-writing tunes, etc., it’s not surprising to see a similar ideas-based concept at work.
“All three are ideas-driven composers, Monk most of all. As he plays, you can hear the cogs turning in his mind. But it’s never cerebral. It’s heartfelt, direct and rooted in swing. You can explore the ideas in different musical contexts, but something about maintaining that framework of form and time brings out certain temporal and harmonic aspects of the pieces that deconstructing puts aside. It’s a challenge to do this in a non-imitative or non-rote way. How can you keep something fresh and engaging so that, as you listen, you want to know where it’s going to go next, what’s going to happen? I feel that keeping the forms and time intact reinforces an aspect of the narrative flow of the piece, and you can follow the flow of ideas in a directional way. So whether it’s Monk or Hasaan or Hope, my approach comes always from developing the ideas, respecting that the tune is at the center, so you can always feel its presence. It’s not about playing changes, or blowing, or dexterity. Economy of expression appeals to me – getting rid of the extraneous stuff and narrowing down to the essential, to what’s real, without ornaments, effects and flashy exhibitions. It’s the importance of leaving stuff out so that what’s left can resonate and make a bigger impact.”
Bassist Nate McBride and drummer Luther Gray, both long-standing partners of Karayorgis, sustain that mindset throughout the program. Actually, McBride introduced Karayorgis to the 1964 Atlantic album, Max Roach Trio Featuring the Legendary Hasaan, once obscure, now well-known to cognoscenti, which was, until the recent release of Metaphysics and Retrospect In Retirement Of Delay: The Solo Recordings, the sole document of Hasaan’s musical production.
“Nate’s trajectory makes him an important component of both the Boston and the Chicago scenes. He spent a decade in Chicago, from 2002-2012, working with many key people from that scene and co-developing the sound associated with the creative music scene of that city, and beyond. We met in Boston at New England Conservatory and started playing together around 1991. We’ve played and recorded together in many different contexts, including a lot of sessions with Mat and Joe Maneri in the mid-‘90s and our formative trio with Randy Peterson. No matter what the context, Nate is always able to zero in on the essence of what’s needed and provide support in the most indirect but also concrete and imaginative way. His playing can be extremely powerful and sensitive at the same time, and deeply informed by a keen awareness of the music, past and present. He also has a great sound, which is central to his musical identity.
“Luther moved to Boston from Washington, D.C. in 1999 and quickly became one of the most sought-after drummers in the Boston jazz and creative music scene, playing in a wide variety of contexts: with Joe Morris, with George Garzone and Jerry Bergonzi, but also leading his own groups for which he writes his own material. He’s an amazing musician, equally comfortable doing very free stuff and straight ahead projects. We’ve worked together all these years in various groups, including as a trio with Nate doing our own music, and also with our collective quintet, Cutout, that features [trombonist] Jeb Bishop and [alto saxophonist] Jorrit Dijkstra.”
Before entering New Haven’s Firehouse 12 in [tk] to record 11 of the 14 selections, the trio played the repertoire live on various occasions in 2021-22, trying different approaches – adding intros, vamps, and other accouterments – towards constructing a point of view. Listeners may find it interesting to A-B these versions with the originals, most of them readily available on streaming media. As examples, let’s cite Karayorgis’ thought process on the songs by Elmo Hope.
The trio addresses “Stars over Marrakesh” – a “tune with a lot of character,” vibrationally akin to “Night in Tunisia” in the half-step vamp, incorporating in the A section “a harmonic minor scale whose upper four notes are the same as the familiar hijaz tetrachord of Arabic music (a much-used device whenever composers wish to evoke a North African flavor)” and containing “a beautifully contrasting B section with big piano voicings” – with an ear to the composer’s 1953 Blue Note recording with Percy Heath and Philly Joe Jones, but “a bit more open and using the opening vamp later on for a bass solo – and keeping the three cymbal crashes.”
For Hope’s “Abdullah,” from a Hope-led 1954 quintet date volcanically propelled by Art Blakey (his adopted Muslim name was Abdullah Ibn Buhaina), Karayorgis asked Luther Gray to play brushes. “It’s a very direct and powerful tune and I wanted the intensity to come from within it, from a more contemplative place. So in our version you hear Luther doing some double time brushes while giving the piano a lot of space.” Also from that quintet session is “Chips,” “the most beboppy tune of the three Hope selections, with a fantastic, beautiful melody; we state the head only once, at the end, after the piano solo and bass solo.”
Hasaan’s “Atlantic Ones,” recorded both on Metaphysics and The Solo Recordings, is a disguised blues. “You have to listen carefully to hear the blues progression — he places all these other unexpected notes in there, then the blowing happens over a completely different set of chords. We tried to play it as a blues, but also keep it a bit obscure harmonically.” The Monkish “Viceroy” was based on a jingle for Hasaan’s favorite, long discontinued, cigarette brand. “El Hassan” “is the weirdest of the four in terms of the chord changes and the melody, which is why I love it.” “Epitome” “is close to Monk because of the consecutive dominant chords and repeating melodic shape in the A sections – it’s very exciting, so much fun to play.”
Returning to Monk, Karayorgis observes that the project compelled him to reexamine his relationship with material he’s been intimate with for more three decades. “When I was playing ‘Trinkle Tinkle’ in 1992, for example, it was much more about flow and the shapes and gestures of the melody. This time I felt I could get into the chordal structure in much greater detail and pull things out which I didn’t earlier.
“Although ‘free’ was the natural direction I gravitated to with my training in more traditional jazz forms, the truth is that I am not a straight-ahead player and I am not a free player. I’m something in between. Or I’m a free player with a background in bebop. For better or worse, you have a way you walk, a way you gesticulate, a way you play – and that comes through. Many times I’ve wished that I didn’t stick out so much, that I could sound a little more ordinary. But I always had this thing, which I’ve embraced; I’ve realized it’s my voice and I have to make the best of it.”
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