Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. This time we’re taking a look at a reissue of a long under-heard mid ’60s jazz gem, the self titled outing from The Max Roach Trio Featuring The Legendary Hasaan.
Jazz has been a genre of evolution and rebirth throughout its storied history and one of the most interesting chapters in the style’s life is undoubtedly that of the experimental, progressive work born from the tumult of the mid ’60s through to the ’70s. Groups from across the world began pushing the boat out further than it had ever been pushed before, taking jazz in directions too abstract to have even been imagined by most just a few years beforehand. Pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali was one such sonic adventurer and – as the liner notes on this new reissue make clear – he was pushing boundaries even during the late ’40s and ’50s. His 1965 collaboration with drummer Max Roach and bassist Art Davis is the only recorded document of his frenetic, wild-eyed playing and although the album is primarily credited to Roach, it can really be seen as Hasaan’s show. Although the album’s pieces are a little too short-form and structured to quite be labelled ‘free jazz’, it is an undeniably pacey, adventurous and energetic record. Musicianship from all in the trio is excellent, with Roach and Davis pushing the compositions further and further – often until near breaking point – before reeling things back in just in the nick of time. Hasaan composed all seven compositions of the collection, and it’s his excitable piano work that really clinches the album as a lost gem. His playing is utterly virtuosic – harmonically complex but yet no mere flurry of notes, it’s also smart and deeply engaging whilst still managing to capture the lightning-in-a-bottle energy that must surely have buzzed around any venue he played in. Reissued on vinyl for the first time since 1971, this rerelease sheds light on a powerful, captivating jazz band that were ultimately and frustratingly short-lived. Hasaan recorded no further albums and he died in 1980. ‘The Max Roach Trio Featuring The Legendary Hasaan’, then – is it a mere curio? A strange diversion in the long and popular discography of bandleader Max Roach perhaps? No. To call the album anything less than an excellent piece of intuitive, fluid hard bop would be to do it a significant disservice. It’s great to see the record given a second lease of life in the modern age.
Available exclusively through Vinyl Me, Please, this is a limited edition of 1000 copies and, considering that limitation, it’s a pressing that’s unlikely to hang around for too much longer (although it is still available at the time of writing). Pressed by the Czech Republic’s GZ Media, this is a really solid pressing which ticks many of the right boxes when it comes to a rock solid jazz reissue. The noise floor is very minimal – a blessing on a record with as many quiet sections as this. Playback is tidy throughout, with clean sound free of notable flaws such as popping or clicks and bearing only a few light, infrequent instances of background surface noise. During much of the album, sound is near perfect and, on our copy, it’s only during certain of the quieter moments that a few minor background crackles can be heard. Fortunately, these are neither frequent nor loud enough to distract from the music itself – a good thing too, as the album has likely never sounded better. Remastered by veteran engineer Kevin Grey, the album positively shines here, with plenty of body and definition in the soundscape. From the sighing bass of ‘Hope So Elmo’, the raucous drums of ‘Off My Back Jack’ and the glistening piano found throughout the album, sound is excellent across the board. While we haven’t heard a vintage copy of the album to compare this reissue to, we’re struggling to imagine it sounding any better than this, so full marks for a job well done as far as remastering goes. As was par-for-the-course during the mid ’60s, the album was initially released in both stereo and mono. For this reissue, stereo has been chosen and, while reissues in mono have been increasingly popular over the past few years, we can’t help but feel the right choice was made here. Although the stereo panning is subtle, it does add an extra dimension to the fluent, seemingly effortless technicality of the album.
Those record collectors who own American-made albums from the ’50s and ’60s will be more than familiar with the high quality, satisfyingly sturdy sleeves created during that era. Made from heavyweight cardboard with the art simply pasted on, they have a pleasing tangibility that few other types of sleeves share. Relegated to infrequently seen deluxe status these days, few modern releases are presented in such a fashion, even in the case of reissues. It’s clear from even a cursory glance that every effort has been made to replicate the US original pressing on this new reissue, as not only are the original labels faithfully reproduced, but the sleeve is indeed a high quality pasted-on affair, as the original would have been. The artwork itself is well represented, with fine print quality and bright colours. The original back cover remains intact (replete with vintage liner notes), and a high quality cardboard insert provides further double-sided liner notes exclusive to this reissue. As mentioned before, the labels accurately replicate those found on the original stereo pressing and they look great. Presentation is smart and well executed here, and it’s clear that those overseeing the reissue took the time to ensure that it lived up to the packaging of the original pressing released so long ago.
‘The Max Roach Trio Featuring The Legendary Hasaan’ is free and easy hard-bop par excellence, and an album which comes highly recommended to those with adventurous ears. This Vinyl Me, Please exclusive reissue offers a welcome opportunity to secure the album without searching for a scarce and expensive original pressing and does so with panache and verve, both in terms of the pressing itself and the overall presentation.