Dick’s Picks: “If you’re looking for a littlle ’70s vintage ambient-ethno-jazz-fusion – then Jon Hassell’s ‘Earthquake Island’ is your one-stop shop”….
A highly acclaimed American trumpet player and composer who you may already be unwittingly familiar with; that’s his treated trumpet (more of which later) on records by David Sylvian, Brian Eno, Talking Heads, Ry Cooder and more. Rewind to 1965 and Hassell began studying in Germany with European modern classical powerhouse Karlheinz Stockhausen before returning to the US and fully embracing the avant classical world – recording with two of its leading figures; Terry Riley and La Monte Young.
However, Hassell’s musical inspiration would take an unexpected curve after exposure to the music created by Indian singer Pandit Pran Nath, Nath employed an unusual (to Western ears at least) Kiranic singing style which had a profound influence on Hassell, so much so he upped reeds and went to India to study with Nath himself (nice work if you can get it). Not only did this result in the ground-breaking ‘Vernal Equinox’ LP, where Hassell showed the world what he could really do with his trumpet (snigger) – namely treating it heavily with electronic effects, but it also opened up the idea of exploring other world music(s) – soon, Hassell would develop the concept further, naming it ‘fourth world music’, “a musical conception that combines the philosophy and techniques of minimalism with Asian and African styles, and relies heavily on the use of electronic recording techniques” – or, if you’d prefer, modern classical music with a healthy dose of World Music influences using all manner of studio trickery……
What’s the album like?
The 9.30 opener ‘Voodoo Wind’ is a corker – after a minute or so of swirling wind effect and intermittent percussive pops and squeaks (that’ll be the Voodoo Wind then), it settles on a regular(ish) groove, that’s Hassell’s trumpet at the one minute mark btw, sounding not unlike a cross-between Tarzan having a face-off with a chorus of angry chimps. By the time you reach the two minute plus mark however, make no mistake, you are in full ‘fourth world’ swing – all clipped high-life-esque guitars, chanted vocal ticks and ethno-percussion heavy…..
….second track ‘Cobra Moon’ (at 9.35) provides a neat illustration of Hassell’s debt to the Kiranic vocal style of Pandit Pran Nath (I do hope you were paying attention earlier?) and at the risk of coming over all pseuds corner, don’t those short, intermittent bursts of treated trumpet throughout give the impression of some kind of primitive language?
The title track ‘Earthquake Island’ is another winner – ten minutes of moody, trippy and other-worldly sonic atmos, with wonderfully rubbery bass provided by one-time Weather Report Czech bassist Miroslav Vitous’, deftly underpinning Hassell’s free-form brassisms.
What happened next?
In ’79 Brian Eno enlisted his services for Talking Heads ‘Remain In Light’ LP before releasing the (sort-of) collaboration Fourth World Vol.1-Possible Musics on his own EG imprint in 1980. The eighties saw him collaborating with David Sylvian (Brilliant Trees and Words With the Shaman) Peter Gabriel on the ‘Music For The Last Temptation of Christ’ OST and he’s even finding time to release albums himself with 2009’s snappily titled, ‘Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Cloths in the Street’.
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