Some say Jon Hassell is the true inheritor of Miles Davis’ sonic explorer’s muse, and listening to his solo catalogue, it is hard to disagree. The octogenarian musician and composer, nominally a jazz trumpeter but so much more, has forged his own instantly recognisable path over the years, melding elegiac trumpet playing and electronic exotica with a keen ear for the unusual sonic juxtaposition along with an innate sense of melody and timing that would make the Dark Magus nod in no doubt grudging appreciation.
Listening To Pictures is Hassell’s first album for nine years, and given his advanced years, something of a surprise, both in the mere fact of its existence and for displaying a more adventurous musical palette than that of musicians and groups half his age. Intricately detailed and still pushing the boundaries of the music he helped instigate, there can’t ever have been many musicians at the twilight of their career who display such joy in creation.
Dreaming sets the tone with its languid air and nonchalant swing, hipsway in the azure to the effortless rhythmic pulse of the music, led one surmises, by Jon’s keyboards. Washes of sound drift through the album, reflecting the loose concept of transforming the pentimento painting effect, where a work is altered by traces of previous works surfacing through the canvas, into a musical form. While it is easy to get lost in the detail, Hassell advises the listener to scan up and down the music as one would a painting, and yes, it makes more sense like that.
The album notes tell us that during the making of this record Jon reconnected with his old friend Brian Eno – it was their Fourth World Vol 1: Possible Musics album that was my introduction to Hassell, way back in 1980, a veritable lifetime ago it seems! Although Eno had no direct input, you can discern his influence throughout, and Listening To Pictures further extends the possible musics of Hassell’s Fourth World – initially a marriage of traditional Indian music interpreted on the trumpet with modern electronica and recording techniques – and this is the pentimento effect in evidence.
Hassell’s often heavily treated trumpet makes occasional and highly effective appearances, rendered more so for their momentary nature. However, it is the digital splicing and electronica that impresses most, supplied by Hassell and a large supporting cast. The rhythm is the centrepiece, regularly in highly convoluted time signatures, Pastorale Vassant being a beguiling case in point. When the trumpet reappears on the following Manga Scene over a skittering and nervously frayed soundtrack that cleverly submerges an actually rather simple and conversely, relaxing motif, it reconnects the listener to the human element, however briefly.
While fleetingly dissonant, and the mixing of breaks and fast beats with modal jazz appearing to be contradictory, the album exists in its own serene harmonic space and is a delight to listen to, as well as being thoroughly modern. This is clever stuff, but not I hasten to add, for the sake of it.
Finally, this release sees the launch of Jon’s Ndeya label, which will be the home for his new work and reissues, as well as some “astonishing” archival releases. Can’t wait!
01. Dreaming (6:08)
02. Picnic (5:58)
03. Slipstream (2:54)
04. Al Kongo Udu (5:12)
05. Pastorale Vassant (3:59)
06. Manga Scene (5:44)
07. Her First Rain (1:38)
08. Ndeya (7:06)
Total Time – 38:43
Jon Hassell – Trumpet, Keyboards, Orchestration
Rick Cox – Guitar, OP-1 synth, Electronics
John von Seggern – Bass, Drums, Electronics
Hugh Marsh – Electric Violin, Electronics
Peter Freeman – Bass, Electronics (tracks 2,3 & 8)
Ralph Cumbers – “Kongo” Drum Programming (track 2)
Eivind Aarset – Electric Guitar, Sampler (track 8)
Kheir-Eddine M’Kachiche – Violin, Sampler (track 8)
Christoph Harbonnier (Lightwave) – Bass (track 3)
Christian Jacob (Lightwave) – Bass (track 3)
Michael Redolfi – Electronics (track 3)
Record Label: Ndeya
Date of Release: 8th June 2018