Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Ernest Hood - 1975 - Neighborhoods

Ernest Hood
1975
Neighborhoods



01. Saturday Morning Doze 7:15
02. At The Store 6:21
03. August Haze 8:00
04. The Secret Place 4:30
05. After School 11:00
06. Gloaming 7:20
07. From The Bluff 6:23
08. Night Games 4:13

Zither [Multiple Zithers], Keyboards, Sounds – Ernest Hood


In 1975, the Portland, Oregon, musician Ernest Hood pressed his lone solo album, Neighborhoods, in an edition of a few hundred. He passed out copies primarily to friends, and the album, a curious blend of found sounds and proto-ambient, disappeared into the Pacific Northwest mist. Newly reissued by Freedom to Spend (in a much improved pressing, spread across two discs), it’s not the first such rarity to be pulled from the ether in the 21st century, as YouTube’s algorithm accumulates millions of plays for once obscure jazz and new-age records. But it might be the most uncanny, an album that kindles a sensation not unlike watching home videos of your own childhood.

If you’ve sat in the yard at dusk right before the mosquitoes come out, ridden a bike through the suburbs in the summertime, or even just driven around your own neighborhood with the windows rolled down, you’ll hear in Neighborhoods an aleatoric sound set in amber. Who was the fellow that plucked out such moments of everyday life, pared them down, and wove it all together?

Born in 1923, Hood grew up in a time when kids ran unsupervised all day long and the most enthralling sound was big-band jazz. Hood picked up the guitar and started playing ballrooms with a jazz band (his brother Bill would go on to have a moderately successful career in the industry), but in the early 1950s, while still in his twenties, he fell victim to a devastating polio outbreak. He spent a year in an iron lung and for the rest of his life used leg braces, crutches, and a wheelchair to get around. He could no longer hold a guitar in his lap, so he took up the zither. At one point in the early 1970s, Hood’s zither could be heard on Flora Purim’s early albums, mixing in alongside fusion stars like George Duke and Stanley Clarke.

His own career in jazz might have ended abruptly, but Hood remained a presence in Portland, where he cofounded the KBOO community radio station. (Before his death in 1995, post-polio syndrome took away even more mobility as well as his ability to speak and he became the public face of the Death With Dignity Act.) And while his guitar playing was halted, he continued to study recording and production. Starting in the mid-’50s, Hood began using a wire recorder to collect the sounds around him, eventually upgrading to a reel-to-reel and microphone, assembling his field recordings into “audio postcards” for his radio show. As the liner notes recount, Hood would surreptitiously park around Portland, “blacking out the windows of his car with a dark cloth to act as a windbreaker,” which attracted a fair bit of notice from concerned neighbors.

It wouldn’t be until 1974 that Hood started assembling all these field recordings and snatches of dialogue into Neighborhoods, weaving in the voices of his own son and family friends. He was in his early fifties at that point and envisioned the album as a nostalgic glance back at his own childhood, a period rapidly fading from memory in the post-war era. There’s talk of a sunken riverboat and steam-powered trains, and the scrape of a game of kick the can, not all that far removed from what Ray Davies would sing on Kinks albums. But you never get the impression that Hood is pining for these lost times so much as documenting the peculiar similarities between his own bygone youth and what he could hear all around him in that moment.

The album opens with birds, barking dogs, a kid tooting on a whistle, a passing car—the kind of stuff that rushes in whenever you pull up your garage door. When Hood’s own zither and synth musings bloom to life, they move with a logic like the wind in the trees, picking up speed and then dying back down, meandering along at their own pace. He gets one of his early synthesizers to chirp along with bird sound in one moment, and then to mimic a tune the kids down the street are yelping the next.

Hood’s musical musings never take over, but rather move in and out of earshot. Sometimes he strums a whimsical air like something lifted from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and at other times he echoes a radio tuned to an old jazz song. The synth melody that gurgles up throughout “Gloaming” brings to mind another album that wove together pioneering synth work and field recordings, Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. Neither moving toward a song nor getting lost in the other sounds, Hood lets it all come to him. While the recordings are documentarian in their way, the music is as vague and open-ended as daily life. There are moments when you might be hard-pressed to notice Hood’s signature at all.

“It hardly matters in which neighborhood you sprouted,” Hood wrote in the original liner notes. “The games we played… and the feelings we experienced… are tantalizingly familiar.” Songs with names like “At the Store” and “After School” could be set just about anywhere. Hood susses out a symphony in the daily noise of American life, like Charles Ives with a portable tape recorder or Norman Rockwell with an early synthesizer prototype. In some passages, Neighborhoods doesn’t feel like a half-century-old curio, but as of-the-moment as a walk to the train. Put it on, hear children shouting out songs, crickets chirping, and the noise diesel engines rumbling past and feel the illusion of time dissolve: You’re in Ernest Hood’s neighborhood.

Jon Hassell - 1986 - Power Spot

Jon Hassell
1986
Power Spot



01. Power Spot 7:04
02. Passage D. E. 5:25
03. Solaire 6:48
04. Miracle Steps 4:18
05. Wing Melodies 7:42
06. The Elephant And The Orchid 11:00
07. Air 5:18

Jon Hassell trumpet
J. A. Deane percussion, alto flute
Jean-Philippe Rykiel keyboards
Michael Brook guitar
Richard Horowitz keyboards
Brian Eno bass
Richard and Paul Armin RAAD electro-acoustic strings
Miguel Frasconi flute

Recorded October 1983 and December 1984, Grant Avenue Studio, Ontario
Assistant  engineering: David Bottrill and Roman Zack
Produced and engineered by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois


American composer and trumpeter Jon Hassell is best known for his music of the Fourth World, which he describes as “coffee-colored classical.” The definition becomes clearer once you immerse yourself in the sounds of Power Spot. Hassell’s career is as varied as his education. A student of both Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pandit Pran Nath, he is known for overlooking idiomatic barriers in favor of something far broader. Nath left an indelible mark in Hassell, who turned to the master’s voice for guidance in his own playing. His unmistakable tones are achieved by singing into the instrument, thereby drawing clusters of sounds from a single exhalation. This recording is significant for a number of reasons, not least for indicating a moment in sonic history in which the electro-acoustic universe was beginning to spin some of its richer, more majestic galaxies. The music on Power Spot radiates like a supernova waiting patiently for the traction of celestial bodies to fan its clouds away, revealing softly spinning globes of breath and vapor. With such evocative titles as “Wing Melodies” and “The Elephant And The Orchid,” one feels almost overwhelmed by the range of possible imagery. And yet, like any question of mode or genre thereof, these words disappear behind the music’s waterfall.

At first listen the album may seem to blend into a broad wash of sound, but lean in closer and you begin to hear the details emerge. The title track is perhaps the most potent, opening this portal to a wellspring of beats and train whistles. Brian Eno’s amphibian bass slithers through a pond of liquid mercury, fading into the gaseous darkness from which it sprang. Otherworldly connotations are bound to reveal themselves, and nowhere more so than in “Passage D.E.,” which sounds like the soundtrack to a documentary of some undiscovered planet. Notable also is “Miracle Steps,” where live percussion provides marked contrast to the synthetic overlay, drawing in the process the album’s most beautiful cartography.

Power Spot is one protracted aerial view, a bubbling primordial soup of circuits and blips, funneled through such progressive sense of direction and atmosphere as only Hassell can activate. Unlike much of the knob-turning to grace the many electronic albums of the 80s, its sound is strikingly effusive and organic. In this ocean, one finds that the light of life shines brightest on the inside. It is a light that no clouds can obscure, a light that no darkness can close its eyes around. It is a journey of transience, of transport, of futurism and antiquity, of none of these things. Influential? More than words can say. Just listen to Paul Schütze’s Stateless, or the works of countless others who’ve clearly drunk from the Hassell font.

A perfect specimen.

Jon Hassell - 1983 - Aka / Darbari / Java

Jon Hassell 
1983
Aka / Darbari / Java



01. Empire I
02. Empire II
03. Empire III
04. Empire IV
05. Empire V
06. Darbari Extension I
07. Darbari Extension II

Producer – Daniel Lanois, Jon Hassell


MAGIC REALISM • Like the video technique of "keying in" where any background may be electronically inserted or deleted independently of foreground, the ability to bring the actual sound of musics of various epochs and geographical origins all together in the same compositional frame marks a unique point in history. • A trumpet, branched into a chorus of trumpets by computer, traces the motifs of the Indian raga DARBARI over Senegalese drumming recorded in Paris and a background mosaic of frozen moments from an exotic Hollywood orchestration of the 1950's [a sonic texture like a "Mona Lisa" which, in close up, reveals itself to be made up of tiny reproductions of the Taj Mahal], while the ancient call of an AKA pygmy voice in the Central African Rainforest — transposed to move in sequences of chords unheard of until the 20th century — rises and falls among gamelan-like cascades, multiplications of a single "digital snapshot" of a traditional instrument played on the Indonesian island of JAVA, on the other side of the world. • Music which is to this degree self-referential, in which larger parts are related to and/or generated from smaller parts, shares certain qualities with "white" classical music of the past. AKA/DARBARI/JAVA is a proposal for a "coffee-colored" classical music of the future — both in terms of the adoption of entirely new modes of structural organisation [as might be suggested by the computer ability to re-arrange, dot-by-dot, a sound or video image] and in terms of the expansion of the "allowable" musical vocabulary in which one may speak this structure — leaving behind the ascetic face which Eurocentric tradition has come to associate with serious expression. • JON HASSELL

The beautiful cover painting by Mati Klarwein serves as an appropriate visual analogy for the music contained herein: an abutting of two worlds, an insinuating blend of early-'80s high tech with ancient Southeast Asia. Over varying, non-specific rhythms supplied by Abdou Mboup, Jon Hassell weaves a music both evocative and plaintive, his modified trumpet sighing like an old Javanese horn pulled into the digital age on its way to what he calls a "coffee-colored" future where all ethnic traditions become one. The astonishingly vocal sound he gets from that treated trumpet is certainly one of the signatures of this album and one of the more lovely sounds heard anywhere. His compositions have a bit too much direction and drive to comfortably settle into the term ambient, but they remain as relaxed and gently meandering as a jungle stream. One especially nice feature is the subtle electronic burblings that whisper in the background, creating an enticingly busy sense of space. Aka/Darbari/Java is an early high-water mark at the juncture between world and ambient musics.

Jon Hassell - 1981 - Fourth World Vol 2 Dream Theory In Malaya

Jon Hassell 
1981
Fourth World Vol 2 Dream Theory In Malaya



01. Chor Moiré 2:18
02. Courage 3:28
03. Dream Theory 5:13
04. Datu Bintung At Jelong 7:03
05. Malay 10:10
06. These Times... 2:52
07. Gift Of Fire 5:00


Jon Hassell – trumpet, pottery drums, Prophet 5, bowl gongs, mix (tracks 2 & 7)
Brian Eno – drums, bowl gongs & bells, mix (tracks 1, 3, 5 & 6)
Michael Brook – bass
Miguel Frasconi – bowl gongs
Walter De Maria – distant drum



In the 1930s, the Mormon missionary-turned-novice anthropologist Kilton Stewart happened upon an indigenous tribe in the Central Mountain Range of Southeast Asia’s Malay Peninsula. After his time spent among the Senoi, Stewart was struck by what he deemed the tribe’s close proximity to dream worlds. “The Senoi believes that any human being, with the aid of his fellows, can outface, master, and actually utilize all beings and forces in the dream universe,” Stewart wrote in his 1954 book Pygmies and Dream Giants. The notion of such dream interpretation slowly moved westward; dream discussion groups have proliferated into the present day.

The trumpeter and composer Jon Hassell may have titled his fourth album, Dream Theory in Malaya, after Stewart’s paper. But in the notes that accompany this reissue, he finds himself taken less by Stewart and more by “the cinematic sound of the word ‘Malay’” and “a little romance with an exotically-tuned woman from Kuala Lumpur.” Such transubstantiation lies at the heart of Hassell’s music, wherein jazz fusion and minimalist composition, ambient and exotica, ancient ethnic music and glitchy electronics all jostle for headspace. This 1981 album fully synthesized such a hybrid for Hassell’s decade ahead, when his influence would snake through the work of his closest collaborator Brian Eno as well as the likes of David Sylvian, Peter Gabriel, and Tears for Fears. While Eno coined the concept of Another Green World, it was Hassell who imagined the indigenous sounds of this planet, a notion that came to be known as Fourth World music. Now into the 21st century, new producers are still grappling with its possibilities.

To find Hassell’s trumpet here is to be spun into a hall of mirrors, the timbre of his horn stretched, chopped, twisted, and processed beyond recognition. Take the maddening glitches of “Chor Moiré.” Thanks to an early use of digital delay effects, it reimagines Hassell and the horn as a skipping CD—as malfunctioning birdcall, as fingernail on sandpaper—anticipating the sounds of late 1990s clicks’n’cuts and the Mille Plateux roster in just over two minutes. Thanks to the harmonizer effect deployed by Hassell, the trumpet’s timbre on “Dream Theory” can sound like an amplified sigh, like a divine choir, and then like a telephone wire of cawing crows at sundown.

As readily as Hassell warps his instrument into strange new shapes, he also finds accomplices from all corners. Dream Theory receives input not just from Eno (in hindsight, Hassell admits to “under-crediting” him) but also from famed land artist Walter De Maria. There are contributions from a bog of frogs, some exotic birds, and a few seconds from a field recording of Proto-Malay kids splashing in some water and giggling at the sound it makes. All such elements toggle between melody, texture, and rhythm in Hassell’s matrix, almost any one of them liable to shape-shift over the duration of a piece. So when the thundering drums of “Courage” enter, they suggest a furious propulsive movement. But as Hassell smears his trumpet across their polyrhythms, they instead turn atmospheric, hanging in place. The breathy ambience of “Gift of Fire” soon grows dense and dizzying with its loops and layers.

Dream Theory’s compositions act as aural illusions, seemingly static and inert, though they deposit you on another shore by the time you reach the other side of a longer piece like “Malay.” Hassell anticipates the looped angelic vocals of Juliana Barwick with his horn during its opening section, before it fans out to sound like his own impression of a pygmy tribe’s vocal trills, mingling with those aforementioned kids and their splashed rhythms. That water sample continues to slosh around and widen until it becomes an ocean, with Hassell hovering over its surface like an alien craft. While Dream Theory’s roots touch on minimal composition, jazz, raga, and ambient, Hassell ultimately follows his own dream logic, conjuring not just another world but also its own atmosphere.

Jon Hassell / Brian Eno - 1980 - Fourth World Vol 1 Possible Musics

Jon Hassell / Brian Eno 
1980 
Fourth World Vol 1 Possible Musics



01. Chemistry 6:48
02. Delta Rain Dream 3:22
03. Griot (Over "Contagious Magic") 4:00
04. Ba-benzélé 6:03
05. Rising Thermal 14° 16' N; 32° 28' E 3:34
06. Charm (Over "Burundi Cloud") 21:24

Recorded and mixed (except for Griot) at Celestial Sounds, New York
Griot recorded in concert January 25, 1980, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

Jon Hassell – trumpet, Prophet 5 touches on "Delta Rain Dream", "Aluar" loop on "Rising Thermal", ARP loops on "Charm"
Brian Eno – background cloud guitars on "Delta Rain Dream", Prophet 5 "Starlight" background on "Ba-Benzélé", high altitude Prophet on "Rising Thermal", rare MiniMoog & treatments on "Charm"
Percy Jones – bass on "Chemistry"
Naná Vasconcelos – ghatam, congas, loop drum
Aïyb Dieng – ghatam, congas
Michael Brook – bass on "Griot"
Paul Fitzgerald – electronics on "Griot"
Gordon Philips – handclaps on "Griot"
Andrew Timar – handclaps on "Griot"
Tina Pearson – handclaps on "Griot"
Jerome Harris – bass on "Ba-Benzélé"
Night Creatures of Altamira – on "Rising Thermal"



The title Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics has a brainy and academic ring to it, but according to Jon Hassell, the record is at least 50% body music. "The basic metaphor is that of the north and south of a person is a projection of the north and south of the globe," the composer, improviser, and trumpet player, now 77, explained in an interview earlier this year. "A mind formatted by language and located in the head, compared with the area of wildness and sensuality below the waist where dance and music and procreation reigns."

However, the first time through, Possible Musics—which Hassell created in 1980 in collaboration with producer Brian Eno—you might find that "wildness" and "sensuality" are not the first adjectives that come to mind. It is eerie, dreamlike, and otherworldly music.

Throughout the record, Hassell’s trumpet is processed using a harmonizer effect, producing alien tonalities that seem to slide between the notes of a traditional Western scale. Often, his melody lines sound more like a human voice than a brass instrument. The rhythm tracks—made up of hand percussion and electric bass—are highly repetitive, but also wobbly and destabilized. The result is a sound that melds minimalism, jazz, and ambient sounds, but doesn’t fit comfortably into any of those genres.

Though his name is not invoked as frequently as Eno’s, the last few decades have proven Hassell—who was born in Memphis, Tennessee—to be an influential presence in electronic music and modern composition. Active since the mid-'60s, his background is hard to duplicate. He studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen, played on the first recording of Terry Riley’s "In C", and has performed session work for Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel. His solo work has provided the sonic blueprint for a number of contemporary musicians, as well, including Aphex Twin (See Selected Ambient Works Vol. II) and Oneohtrix Point Never (Returnal) to name a few.

Possible Musics was, in a lot of ways, the first full realization of Hassell's Fourth World concept. Many of the sounds—the freaky trumpet tones, the drifting ambient structures—were already in place on his 1977 debut LP, Vernal Equinox, but while that album is as meditative and mesmerizing as anything he has released, it is clearly identifiable as a jazz fusion record.

On Possible Musics, synthesizers and electronic treatments help to nudge things into less recognizable territory. The music is informed by minimalism, but Hassell's take is very different than the works of Philip Glass or Steve Reich that are linked to that style. For those composers, minimalism often involved rigorous structure and clockwork execution, whereas Possible Musics is conceptually dialed in, but loose and improvisational in its execution. Harmonic motion is limited and all attention is centered around the embellishment of a single melodic line. Hassell is playing lead on these songs, but his performances often blur seamlessly into the backing tracks.

Like Eno’s ambient records, Possible Music is all about mood. However, where Music For Airports sought to reflect a highly impersonal environment, Hassell’s work is intentionally exotic. No specific nation or people is being quoted here, though. Hassell's landscape is an invented one—an imagined culture, where high technology and mysticism are blended together. "John’s experiment was to imagine a 'coffee coloured' world," explains Eno in an essay first published in the Guardian and excerpted for the reissue's liner notes. "A globalized world constantly integrating and hybridizing, where differences were celebrated and dignified—and realize it into music."

In this sense, Possible Musics is an exercise in science fiction. Like the William Gibson book Neuromancer, the record offered an imperfect, but prescient glimpse toward the near future.  The subsequent decades have not produced much music like Hassell’s, but the concepts that informed Possible Musics have proven predictive of the way that technology would come to mesh with music-making in other cultures—whether that’s Konono N°1's amplified thumb pianos, Group Doueh’s electric guitars, or any number of global electronic and pop sounds that have been produced using a laptop computer.

And once you acclimate to the weird and warbly tones, there is a certain sensuality to Possible Musics. In Hassell’s desire to crossbreed cultures there’s an implicit act of intercourse going on—a desire for personal renewal and transformation via an "other", be it a nation, culture, or another human being.

Largely thought of merely as a mostly stillborn offshoot of Brian Eno's larger ambient music series, the Fourth World series of albums, in collaboration with trumpeter Jon Hassell, is actually an entirely separate beast. Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics starts off from the same basic idea as Hassell's previous solo albums, like Earthquake Island and Vernal Equinox: a blend of avant-garde composition, jazz soloing, and African and Middle Eastern rhythmic forms. This album adds only Eno's characteristic production touches, like the reversed echo that adds a ghostly, unreal edge to Hassell's trumpet solos on the side-long "Charm (Over Burundi Cloud)." The rest of the album, including the African hand drummers on the hypnotic "Delta Rain Dream" and the swirling, almost speech-like solos of "Griot," is pure Hassell. Although this album was never a chart hit and has become surprisingly underappreciated over the years, its influence on what has since become known as tribal techno is incalculable, as has its influence on those art rockers who have picked up a world music vibe. Peter Gabriel in particular owes a fair chunk of his royalty checks from Security onward to Jon Hassell.

Jon Hassell - 1978 - Earthquake Island

Jon Hassell 
1978 
Earthquake Island



01. Voodoo Wind 9:29
02. Cobra Moon 4:49
03. Sundown Dance 4:43
04. Earthquake Island 10:07
05. Tribal Secret 3:44
06. Balia 4:32
07. Adios Saturn 1:52

Bass – Claudio Ferreira (tracks: A1, B4)
Bass – Miroslav Vitous (tracks: A2 to B1, B3)
Congas, Percussion, Voice – Nana Vasconcelos
Guitar – Claudio Ferreira (tracks: A1 to B1, B3, B4)
Guitar – Ricardo Silveira (tracks: A2, A3)
Percussion – Dom Um Romao (tracks: A2 to B1, B3)
Synthesizer, Trumpet – Jon Hassell
Tabla – Badal Roy (tracks: A2 to B3)
Trumpet – Jon Hassell (tracks: A1 to B1, B3, B4)
Vocals – Clarice Taylor (tracks: A1, A3, B4)

Recorded and mixed at Power Station Studios, NYC.



Earthquake Island was Hassell's first project supported by a traditional lineup -- two guitarists, a bassist, and several percussionists. Rhythms from Latin American and the Caribbean appear for the only time (so far) in this world citizen's recordings, and on a couple of tracks there's even a guest vocalist named Clarice Taylor. Earthquake Island is also the artist's least discussed album. Okay, make that undiscussed -- even on websites devoted to Hassell's music, it only gets a sentence or two. In hindsight, this album seemed like a backward step compared to the electronic drones and hand percussion of Vernal Equinox, and was perhaps taken as a thin example of the late-'70s jazz fusion taste for Latin percussion and horn arrangements (cf. Santana; the 1979 debut by Irakere). Certainly the participation of Weather Report vets like bassist Miroslav Vitous and percussionist Dom Um Romão promised a bit of that band's shine with jazz reviewers and fans. This is too bad, because a nice, unusually direct collection of tunes has gone overlooked. Certainly, the Moog and Arp synthesizers date the music. They provide nice harmonic guidelines without getting slippery, but are a little slick; Vitous' bass and the guitars of Claudio Ferreira and Ricardo Silviera don't use electronic effects, so they don't match Hassell's brass textures. But they all, Um Romeo, Nana Vasconcelos, and Pakistan tabla master Badal Roy, create a bottom far earthier than the experimental percussion textures of Dream Theory in Malaysia or the overworked, undermelodic funk rock of City: Works of Fiction, especially the touches of samba. Where Hassell's trumpet effects and stylings tend to swell up and even loom over his keyboards and rhythm sections on his finest albums, this time the melodies keep him playing closer to the treetops.

Jon Hassell - 1977 - Vernal Equinox

Jon Hassell 
1977 
Vernal Equinox



01. Toucan Ocean 3:42
02. Viva Shona 7:04
03. Hex 6:20
04. Blues Nile 9:51
05. Vernal Equinox 21:56
06. Caracas Night September 11, 1975 2:10

Jon Hassell – trumpet, electric piano (A1, A3)

Miguel Frasconi – bells and claves (A3)
Andy Jerison – synthesizer (A3)
Nicolas Kilbourn – mbira and talking drum (A3)
David Rosenboom – synthesizer (A1, A3), mbira (A2), rattles (A3), goblet drum (B1), recording
Naná Vasconcelos – congas (A1, B1, B2), shakers (A1, A3), bells (A2), talking drum (A2)
William Winant – kanjira and rattles (A3)

Additional sounds:
Track 1 - Ocean
Track 2 - Tropical birds
Tracks 4, 5 - Drone: Serge synthesizer
Track 5 - Drone: Motorola scalatron (256Hz pitch standard)
Track 6 - Night creatures of Altamira, Distant barking by Perrasita

Recorded at York University Electronic Media Studios (Toronto, Ontario), October/November 1976.
Mixdown and additional recording: Mastertone Recording Studios (New York), September/October 1977.
Released January 1, 1978



" Jon Hassell is more than a superb musician. He is an inventor of new forms of music - of new ideas of what music should be (...). [His] is an optimistic, global vision, which allows us to foresee not only 'possible music' but 'possible futures' ” . Word of Brian Eno , who, after having "stolen" the idea of ​​the "Fourth-World Music" (a theft from which the acclaimed " My Life in the Bush of Ghosts " , created together with David Byrne, but which was originally conceived as a six-handed job) made him all the honors in an interview back in 1986. Those were the years when the great American trumpeter had by now reached an exemplary maturity, in terms not only artistic, but also human and "theoretical", in the wake of superb records, of which "Vernal Equinox" , the debut released by Lovely Music Ltd. in 1977, remains, to this day, the unsurpassed peak." (Pitchfork)

But Hassell had reached that goal, certainly not in a painless way.

It has already been said of the question "theft", an event that deeply engraved on the psyche of Our, so much to induce him to a further meta-musical reflection, from which new fundamental works will come out, including "Fourth World Volume Two: Dream Theory in Malaya " (1981; in which the innovations of the masterpiece undergo a process of" radicalization ") and " Aka / Darbari / Java - Magic Realism " (1983; slightly less inspired, but still fascinating) .

Born in 1937 in Memphis (Tennessee), the young Hassell grew amid a melting pot in miniature, invaghendosi early African-American music. his first love, Stan Kenton and Miles Davis . later, there was the shock - very common in those days - of the comparison with the works of Karlheinz Stockhausen (especially that of the historian " Gesang der Jünglinge "of 1956), whose courses he was able to attend in Cologne in 1965, shoulder to shoulder with Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt , later founding members of the Can . Hassell could have been part of the German band himself, but in accepting Schmidt's invitation he apologized, claiming that rock was not on his strings. He had other things on his mind and it soon became clear that when he returned home, he was able to participate in the recording sessions of " In C " (1967) by Terry Riley (or the "definitive" genesis of minimalism) and in some works by La Monte Young. In this way, he could prove to himself that he was more interested in overcoming (which, incidentally, will never be total) of certain Western-style musical conceptions. That his work should be a synthesis, he guessed after a trip to India, where he came into contact with the world of Indian music and with the indefinable nuances of the "ragas".

Under the guidance of Pandit Pran Nath (great heir to the "Kirana" vocal tradition), in 1972 he began to study Indian chant, which exposed him to a "micro-world of connections". What strikes him is above all the aspect defined as "calligraphy in the air", connected with that almost supernatural ability that the Indians have to construct, with sounds, "forms" in space.

The first five months of lessons were exhausting. Teacher and student continually confronted each other, in a game of references and corrections, through a communication defined as "aural / oral". Pran Nath used to perform grueling vague ragas, exploring the characteristics of each note in such an obsessive way that it gave the listeners a true "trance" state.

Later, the master taught him to transfer that sound into the trumpet instrument. Hassell ended up making a sound very similar to what you get when you blow into a shell. It was something made of desert, of "psychic" resonances, in which the use of ragas (considered as a pre-verbal experience of knowledge) gave the possibility to merge in a new way the "spiritual" dimension and the "physical" dimension "Of Sound, also defining the boundaries of a space in which a state of grace exists. The latter is obtained through the abolition of divergences between North and South; that is: western civilization, full of materialism and rationalism, as well as heir to an incomplete musical tradition, because, unlike the eastern one (the South, in reference to the lower part of the human body,

The approach of the American musician towards the "Fourth World Music", however, also had a more "concrete" input, so to speak. His marriage ended badly, Hassell met a girl, the daughter of African-American and Native American parents; encounter that put him in contact with two distinct yet converging realities in a single body. The next step was the juxtaposition to the experiments of Miles Davis , whose " On the Corner "(1972) is considered by Our - rightly or wrongly - an album in which some characteristic elements of that synthesis that he was trying to implement are already contained in nuce. The reflection then shifted to the dichotomy between the "abstract" world of classical minimalism and that of shadows, of the elusive sensuality that lies behind the appearance of things. A first experiment in this direction was represented by the composition "Solid State"(1969), used as a "sound sculpture" in museums or art galleries. It is a "sound block" that is progressively eroded from the inside through the use of successive "distillations". In short: on the one hand a "structure" and on the other the "incessant movement". There are already some characteristic elements of ragas, such as, for example, the use of drones, or sound drones with hypnotic character. But to be honest, what was now pushing in the direction of "Vernal Equinox"were some fundamental precautions. First of all, drones become electronic, while percussions are clearly of Afro-Brazilian ancestry (and this is because Hassell was looking for something more "indefinable", compared to the more obvious use of an Indian "drumming"). The so-called "solo line" is missing, which, of course, was assigned to the trumpet and its electronic chiaroscuro (since its timbre was usually digitally altered). The "Fourth World Music" was so founded.

All this, however, would not have been possible without the help of another fundamental lesson. We refer to the "universalism" of Don Cherry, which is undoubtedly one of the cardinal moments in the journey towards a type of musical system built on the accumulation of increasingly dense and deeply "mystical" musical materials (see exemplary records such as "Mu" , " Relativity Suite " and the more electric " Brown Rice " ).

That said, it seems natural to see "Vernal Equinox"as a "monumental" work, precisely because of its ability to reflect, and, at the same time, incorporate different sources and experiences without distorting them. His greatness lies precisely in the fact of representing a "sound revelation", whose expressive and imaginative power perhaps not even the author himself managed to capture in the immediate of its realization and publication.

For the universal fresco of his absolute masterpiece, Hassell called the Brazilian Naná Vasconcelos to percussion , the creator of an extremely ritualistic and evocative sound. Other types of percussion (acoustic and otherwise) were entrusted to David Rosenboom , Miguel Frasconi , Nicolas Kilbourn and William Winant. "Special guest" - so to speak ... - the "Night Creatures of Altamira", which with their distant and almost indistinct barks give the sound textures a deviant sense of "altered" mysticism. In addition to the "snake trumpet" (somehow indebted to Don Cherry's "expanded" style ), Hassell also deals with the "scenographic" aspect, so to speak, cared for through the discreet but perfectly suggestive use of a Fender Rhodes , whose sound is often transcended by the ecstatic trails of the Serge Synthesizer.

The very first seconds of "Toucan Ocean" (3'56 ") already highlight the prodigious measure of things. A rhythmic wander of congas that slides into the breaking of the ocean on the shore. The choice is not random. As argued by Hassell, in fact, his music can be seen as a continuous swaying between opposite poles, a continuous entering and exiting an imaginary framework, in which - we add - the colors are the sounds and the lines the spiritual dimensions of the mind . The sinuous modulations of the trumpet evoke inner phantoms, in an empathetic soliloquy with that sick, turbid, humid timbre, which in turn brings together a meta-discourse on the immutability of music, rummaging through the folds of a concept very dear to La Monte Young, but that here becomes something else ... perhaps an image, most likely an ocean of sensations amid the wonders of a spring equinox.

In "Viva Shona" (7'08 "), instead, the trumpet coughs almost in fear, insecure. His dilated hisses space inside a mutant arabesque, built on the intertwining and dispersing of bells, mbira and tropical birds. Faithful to his musical vision, Hassell sees in these rituals of the spirit a no man's land in which the best "human" characteristics of different worlds meet in a "Possible World", generator of "Possible Music". But in this work of subtle purification, he also ends up chiselling a virgin space, in which the wild jungle meets the metaphorical one of the industrialized cities. Cities that, in their enormous growth, ended up completely submerging the sense of "origins". However, the latter ends, in one way or another, to return,The Residents , Pere Ubu , The Pop Group ) leaves deep traces even in the musical representations of a world on the verge of collapse. This is a perfect cultural equivalent of what is being done in "Vernal Equinox" .

The music of Hassell, in fact, gives a little the feeling of a city that suddenly turns out to be naked, "primitive" beyond its technological shell, as eroded by a millennial wind, which comes from the most hidden parts of the Earth. They are the "unknowable aspects of the city" (to resume the title and "artistic intentions" of a historical piece by Joseph Jarman , on " Song For "), which suddenly come to the surface, mingling with the monstrous sonic babel of traffic, the chilling indifference of passers-by or the neon lights running down the glittering asphalt from the recently fallen rain. This conflict is sharpened in "Hex" (6'29 "), in the impossible embrace between Kilbourn's" talking drum ", the rattles of Vasconcelos and Rosenboom, on one side, and Hassell's sly and" shamanic "trumpet , on the other. It is incredible to see how the examples of techno / tribal impressionism that we will find in " Remain in Light " (think, for example, of "Seen And Not Seen") of the Talking Heads (with Eno in formation) are already widely defined and "accomplished."

However, that of the Memphis trumpeter is not a particular version of "world-music". Rather, his music is defined within the limits of a daring experimentalism in which the goal is the identification of a Universal Sound, capable of communicating emotions and visions that belong to the "sacred" roots (as rationally "unreachable") of the Land. But in the choice of technology as a coagulant factor, he states that in the refractions of those roots one also perceives "futurist" fluorescences, in a collision between past and future that manifests, in the state of grace reached, the unavoidable presence of existential distress, through the electronic coding of horror vacui (see, in this regard,

This is what appears even more evident in the next two pieces.

In "Blues Nile" (10'01 "), the distant torment of the trumpet, abandoned in the void, extends distances like rivers drained by the wind, while the sound erupts in a space / time diagram. The center of gravity of the piece - the static resonance of the Serge Synthesizer - twirls in an astral desert, made of dry anguish and atavistic silences. The feeling is that of a more "psychological" than musical stratification. In fact, in abandoning oneself to the uninterrupted flow of music, one ends up seeing particularly “sinister” echoes in the vibrating tremor of the synth, which digs around its borders, penetrating towards the center of its unraveling. The multifonia of the "snake trumpet" also reveals how the slipping inside of the notes takes place in an almost "impalpable" way, a bit like in the ragas, in which, with a careful listening, one can perceive an infinite change that contrasts with the apparent static nature of the musical surface. Thus we see an almost metaphysical connection between the real, pseudo-static, and the invisible forces that change it incessantly (it is no coincidence that Hassell maintained that "what is invisible is what surrounds us").

Behind the placid embrace between percussion and the trumpet of the title track(22'07 "), there is still an unlimited space, in which electronics take on more" cosmic "connotations, while the curves of the trumpet mimic the sinuous body of a dancer buried by the sunset symphonic flood. In the unsolved confrontation between sensuality and structure, between ancient and modern, the enchanted ecstasy of a "pure" sound is generated, without geography and without masters. It is music made of infinitesimal accents, probably still largely incomprehensible, being dictated by a need too far in time: that of "music" the Soul (of the world and of man), but in such a way that the spaces between sound and silence be filled with a prodigious twilight whirring with hisses. In these 22 minutes of transcendental descriptivism, in which the trumpet touches heights and timbres of frightening lyricism, Hassell probably gives the maximum exposure of his great musical achievement. And it really seems, to paraphrase some of his statements, to be in the presence of perfect beauty in a perfect place. If there is, in short, a sound equivalent of the "Open" ofRilke , here you will find one of the most magical and "absolute" versions.

In "Caracas Night September 11, 1975" (2'12 ") we finally hear a hail of rattles and an insistent buzz of crickets, which slip to the edge of the night, while the trumpet declines to the September moon a poem made by now only of inscrutable evanescences.


Recorded in 1976 at the York University Electronic Media Studios in Toronto, Ontario, Vernal Equinox is Jon Hassell's first recording as a solo artist and sets the stage for his then-emerging career as a trumpeter, composer and musical visionary. "Toucan Ocean" opens the album with two gently swaying chords and delicate layers of percussion that provide a cushion upon which Hassell unfurls long, winding melodic shapes. His trumpet is sent through echo and an envelope filter, producing a stereo auto-wah-wah effect. "Viva Shona" features accompaniment by mbira, subtle polyrhythmic layers of percussion, and the distant calling of birds. Again filtered through echo, Hassell's gliding trumpet lines sound remarkably vocal. "Hex" features a bubbling, filtered electric bass part with a denser web of percussion. From his horn, Hassell elicits moans and sighs that are at first unaffected and later filtered. "Blues Nile" is a long, blue moan. Hassell's breathy, multi-tracked trumpet lines call and respond to one another, weaving a web of deep calm over an ever-present drone. This track clearly points the way to his later work with Brian Eno, in particular, their "Charm Over Burundi Sky." On the title track, Hassell's "kirana" trumpet style is in full bloom as he dialogs with the percussion. Hassell's most elegant melodicism blossoms forth here, and his unaffected horn often sounds disarmingly flute-like. The influences of his study of raga with Pandit Pran Nath are clearly discernible in the curvaceous melodic lines and overall sense of meditative calm within harmonic stasis. Throughout the album, percussionists Naná Vasconcelos and David Rosenboom add subtle, supple grooves and colors. "Caracas Night September 11, 1975" is a beautiful field recording featuring Hassell's plaintive trumpet commentary, subtle percussion interjections, and the sound of caracas humming and buzzing in the background. The first several tracks of Vernal Equinox bear the imprint of '70s-period Miles Davis, in particular the quiet ambience of "He Loved Him Madly" and parallel passages from Agharta. The envelope filter on Hassell's horn similarly draws a reference to Davis' use of the wah-wah pedal from that time. Nonetheless, in 1976, Vernal Equinox was remarkably unique and ahead of its time, and sowed the seeds of Hassell's influential Fourth World aesthetic, which he would continue to develop and refine. Decades after its release, Vernal Equinox still provides an enchanting and entirely contemporary listening experience.