Sunday, August 16, 2015

Jon Hassell - 'Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street' - ECM Records 2009

Jon Hassell's 2009 release on ECM could surely win in a competition for the 'strangest album title', not to mention the most mysterious. Hassell's music is often situated in a hazy nexus between jazz and ambient, and it can do weird things to your sense of space. He sounds like no one else, but many trumpet players and sound collagists have been deeply influenced by his work. On this recording Hassell captures a hushed, gorgeous stillness that recalls Miles Davis at his most languid.

The piece that entranced me immediately even before I got this album is "Last night the moon came", which is the most elegiac piece, built upon a tranquil, repeating string figure. *It is the 4th track, and I would strongly recommend to anyone who might think that this album is not for them-to start with this work. It is simply ethereal, and imo the highlight of this collection. The first track, "Aurora" is also a fine place to start (call me 'captain obvious'. -is anyone suddenly singing Do-Re-Mi??) however it requires more patience for the uninitiated I would think. It is symphonic in feeling (even the bass resembles a timpani) in it's own quiet, dreamy way..

"Jon Hassell is an inventor of new forms of music – of new ideas of what music could be and how it might be made. His work is drawn from his whole cultural experience without fear or prejudice. It is an optimistic, global vision that suggests not only possible musics but possible futures."

This quote came from Brian Eno in 1986, and if anyone knows a thing or two about new forms of music, it is Eno.

Jon Hassell, in case his name doesn't ring a bell (especially for those who do not regularly listen to or keep up with the world of jazz), is a trumpet player. But calling him a trumpet player is akin to calling Duke Ellington a piano player. Having studied under Karlheinz Stockhausen and worked with minimalist music trailblazers Terry Riley and La Monte Young, Hassell eventually carved out his own distinct sound in the wide open world of electronic experimental music. Perhaps the final piece of Hassell's musical mosaic grew out of his studies with Pran Nath, an Indian singer. From that experience, Hassell integrated the vocal inflections of Indian raga into his trumpet playing, a distinction that sets his horn apart to this day.

By the late seventies, Hassell had digested these and other influences to forge a new style he coined "Fourth World" which he describes as "..a unified primitive/futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques." Since his 1977 debut 'Vernal Equinox', Jon Hassell has effectively blended world musics, electronic atmospherics and advanced western composition to create a sound that's both approachable and exotic.

Hassell has more than just critics to co-sign to his musical concept, however. Visionary artists as diverse as Ry Cooder, Peter Gabriel, the Kronos Quartet, the renaissance man David Byrne/Talking Heads and the aforementioned Eno have all brought him in to collaborate, and filmakers have found his music appealing as well, with his works appearing in films such as 'The Last Temptation Of Christ' and 'Angel Eyes'.

"Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street" is taken from a line by the great 13th century Sufi mystic and poet, Jalaluddin Rumi. If the title suggests that Jon Hassell is (also) a renaissance man, the music contained within confirms it.

Hassell is a master at proffering an integrated musical montage where individual instruments aside from his horn rarely rise above it to capture the ear's attention. Considering that there are up to seven musicians playing on any given track to produce such a sleek, angular sound, that's no small accomplishment. Hassell’s insular horn floating over a distant, shimmering electric piano does much to replicate the atmospherics heard on Miles Davis's "In A Silent Way" although admittedly with fewer hints of jazz.

Casual ears might brand this music "new age" but closer listening reveals a lot of richness found in the layers that Hassell carefully constructs in creating that montage. "Time And Peace" features both Hassell's trumpet and Kheir Eddine M'Kachiche's violin sounding virtually indistinguishable from each other. "Abu Gil" tantalizingly hints at Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night In Tunisia", but never quite cops it.

"Time and Place", "Clairvoyance", and "Scintilla" act as transitions segmenting, however seamlessly, the album into roughly thirds.

"Northline" stands out with its a well-defined bassline and Eivind Aarset's wah-wah guitar. It's the closest this album gets to rock-infused jazz. The "Blue Period", a remixed version of a track Hassell did for a movie, is an ostinato that gently ebbs and flows like waves crashing against the shore. "Light On Water", one of four tracks recorded live, is a slow-motion ride tastefully adorned with Jan Bang's live sampling. 

Enjoy ye explorers


Scraps said...

I have all (I think) of Hassell. He's wonderful. You can spot his trumpet playing on one note, and his composition style in one phrase.

Tzadik said...

Hassell is wonderful, and I have some catching up to do; I have his first few early albums, and then only this 2009 ECM disc. I think he has done at least 2 others for ECM? I really want to get my ears on those!!


Scraps said...

I think he's only done one more for ECM -- but that's my (most days) favorite, 1986's Power Spot.

Tzadik said...

Ah ok. I don't have that one. I'm sure I can easily 'find' it. I cannot afford to buy anything at all these days (except basics..and I mean things like soap & paper towels) which is very depressing but then again I have enough issues trying to find storage spots. I have a feeling you know of many more jazz blogs than I do although it would take me but a minute or two to find a great one-with my savvy, unhealthy enthusiasm ;)


Scraps said...

Jon Hassell - Power Spot


Tzadik said...

Scraps my man, thank you!!! You happen to rule dear friend :)

I must say I'm enjoying it a lot thus far, it's quite percussive. "Power Spot" contains to my ears the sound of someone (or something!) playing the tabla, but in a different galaxy...far removed from Indian classical music.



Tzadik said...

I was referring to the actual title track..

-Listening to Solaire right now, it's a real joy


Scraps said...

I think my favorite is "Wing Melodies". But I like all of them.

Tzadik said...

Yes, that's one of my faves now too :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I heard "Last Night the Moon Came" on Q2 the other night. Even though Fourth World Vol. 1 is among my favorite albums, I have never ventured further into Hassell's catalog ... looking forward to exploring. :)