Wednesday, October 20

Jon Hassell: radical musician who studied with Stockhausen and worked with Eno | Music

BBy the time Jon Hassell became a revered figure, the decidedly non-commercial avant-garde kind of artist, whose ideas are so strong and so forward-thinking that they end up influencing the mainstream anyway, he was already middle-aged, but had packed an entire crowd. life of musical experience in his 40s.

He had started his career as a trumpet player in the swing era; Tellingly, his own tastes leaned towards Stan Kenton, one of the most progressive and experimental big band leaders, before plunging into the forefront of modern classical music and moving to Cologne to study with Karlheinz Stockhausen – his classmates. they were Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay, both later from Can. In an early example of his lifelong desire to fuse different musical forms, he began trying to apply Stockhausen’s tape experiments to the recordings of the jazz vocal quartet Hi-Los.

Upon his return to the United States, he collaborated with synthesizer pioneer Robert Moog, minimalist composer Terry Riley, and La Monte Young, becoming a member of the latter’s Eternal Music Theater, best known in rock circles for act as a kind of drone music training ground that helped shape Velvet Underground’s John Cale and Sterling Morrison. Hassell then moved to India to study raga with classical singer Pandit Pran Nath. Once again, Hassell immersed himself in trying to unite two different musical traditions, applying the ornamentation of his teacher’s voice to his trumpet playing, connecting Indian music with jazz, American movie soundtracks, Yma Sumac and Ravel.

Jon Hassell in 2018.
Sounds the ‘fourth world’ … Jon Hassell in 2018. Photography: Roman Koval

One result of his study was his debut solo album, 1978’s Vernal Equinox, in which he fueled his trumpet through electronic effects and adapted his playing so that it often sounded more like a flute or voice than a horn: echoes of raga, Young and Miles Davis’s drone experiments of the electric age could be detected in their sound, but the result, calming, meditative, full of the non-Western influences suggested by the track titles that included Blues Nile, Toucan Ocean and Caracas Night finally sounded like nothing else on the hour. It was the first flowering of what Hassell called “fourth world” music, where a plethora of global sounds collided with technology to evoke what Brian Eno, who found the album while living in New York and quickly became the collaborator and Hassell’s most famous defender, later called “a globalized world, in constant integration and hybridization, where differences were celebrated and dignified.” Over time, and particularly with the advent of sampling, it would become a very widespread idea.

Jon Hassell: Spring Equinox – stream Spotify

Hassell’s early 1980s work with Eno and Talking Heads was not without its tumultuous side: He abandoned the project that became Eno and David Byrne’s acclaimed 1981 album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts since the beginning, unimpressed, he said, by the music being played. emergent.

Jon hassell
Merging musical forms … Jon Hassell, whose haunting solos appear in Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. Photograph: Chris Young / Redferns

Yet he and Eno remained close friends and regular collaborators for the rest of Hassell’s life – those are Hassell’s effect-laden trumpet moans over Shadow’s haunting soundscape from Eno’s solo album Ambient 4: On. Land; his extraordinary and haunting solos on Houses in Motion, from Talking Heads’ 1980 album Remain in Light, and on Fourth World 1: Possible Musics, an album by Hassell and Eno also released in 1980, where African drums, electronica a Hassell’s drift and playing combined to create a heady, wet and utterly seductive mood. His best-known work led Hassell to become the session musician of choice for a certain breed of artistically adventurous pop stars of the ’80s – he performed with Peter Gabriel, David Sylvian, and Tears for Fears, among others, and became a regular contributor. from Ry Cooder’s. work on the soundtrack (Cooder reciprocated by performing regularly on Hassell’s albums).

He continued to develop his notion of fourth world music (the dense polyrhythms of the 1986 Power Spot, produced by Eno and Daniel Lanois, is a particularly compelling listen), as well as expanding his sound in different stylistic directions. Since 1990, City: Works of Fiction has been influenced by hip-hop and dance music with many samples. 1994’s Dressing for Pleasure featured an incredibly eclectic supporting cast: Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, celebrated jazz saxophonist Kenny Garrett, sometime Guns N ‘Roses guitarist Buckethead, and Greg Kurstin, who later he would become a super pop producer, and almost qualified. like trip-hop. He said more about Hassell’s influence on the more exploratory aspects of dance music than he did about any desire on his part to chase trends. While he had obviously foreshadowed the atmosphere of chill-out music and the kaleidoscopic fusion of disparate musical influences from the sample culture, instead of capitalizing on their influence, he entered jazz territory, performing standards such as Nature Boy and Duke Ellington’s Caravan in Fascinoma from 1999..

Hassell seemed equivocal at best about his impact on pop. Contemporary producers were clearly inspired by him: echoes of his sound could be heard in Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II; He was praised by everyone from Björk to Bono, sampled by minimal techno hero Ricardo Villalobos and avant-garde author Arca alike, and ultimately landed his own record label thanks to pioneering electronics label Warp. He worked with DJs Howie B and Carl Craig, but denounced what he called “the trivialization of the exotic … the herd trampling the campsites where I visited with delicacy and respect 15 or 20 years ago.”

When asked by a website to list his favorite music, Hassell refused to list “ethnic favorites” as a result of a “Deep Forest-like appropriation.” “I feel,” she protested, “like a mother bird whose babies have been touched by humans and no longer want to have anything to do with them.”

It was a complaint with a serious point at its core. Cultural appropriation became a hot topic, but Hassell avoided such accusations. He gave great credit to his sources and collaborators; as Eno put it, “a primary principle in Jon’s work [was] that of respect – he looks at the world with all its momentary and evanescent moods with respect and it shows in his music ”.

Last summer, I interviewed Hassell for The Guardian. He was, by his own admission, in a state of exhaustion. He was 83 years old, had broken his leg after a fall in his study, and spent four months convalescing in the hospital without visits, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, “so I only had my cell phone to retain contact with the outside world. ”. It seemed like a cruel fate for someone who had spent his life immersed in the music and culture of the world in all its many forms.

He didn’t know if he would be able to play the trumpet again, but despite all his tribulations, he was still full of ideas. He explained his self-devised concept of musical “pentimento”, which had informed his last two albums: collages of dense, moody sound, where “layers of corrections are used to flourish something.” He spoke of a theory that underpinned an unpublished book he had written, about the battle between intellectual and Dionysian impulses in music.

“I have plans,” he laughed, but of course Jon Hassell always had plans: he planted seeds, Eno once said, “the fruits of which are still being gathered.”

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