INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
God Is In The TV NOVEMBER 12, 2014 - by Dominic Valvona
JON HASSELL/BRIAN ENO - FOURTH WORLD VOL.1: POSSIBLE MUSICS
Proving a fruitful enterprise in the exploratory music department and a fruitful extension of the ambient and minimalist genres, the, what should seem on the surface, harmonious partnership between Brian Eno and Jon Hassell proved fraught with acrimony. But more of that later, first let me fill you in on the details and lay out the partnership's traversing suite.
Already riding high on a crust of acclaimed production projects and numerous semi-successful collaborations and solo albums, when Eno touched down in New York City in 1978, he would unintentionally help direct another important development in ambient and world music (and also end up staying for five years). Absorbed in what the city had to offer him musically, Eno came across the stripped and atmospherically rich experiments of trumpeter/composer Jon Hassell, who's own pathway from adroit pupil of Stockhausen to seminal work on Terry Riley's harangued piano guided In C, encompassed a polygenesis of influences: a lineage that draws inspiration from avant-garde progenitors like La Monte Young, and travels far and wide, absorbing sounds from Java to Burundi.
So impressive is Hassell's CV and study credentials - studying with an array of diverse bastions of indigenous music styles, including Hindustani classical singer and mystic, Pran Nath - that many other such luminaries, both before and since, attempted to court his attention for possible collaborations (Peter Gabriel, David Sylvain). Though a minor figure in the sense of worldwide recognition, and never one to brush with any sort of commercial popular appeal, Hassell irked out his own personal philosophy. With a handy masters degree in composition, he attempted a reification of what he would term the "fourth world"; a style that reimagined an amorphous hybrid of cultures; a merger between the traditions and spiritualism of the third world (conceived during the "cold war" to denote any country that fell outside the industrious wealthier west, and not under the control of the Soviet Empire) and the technology of the first. The record that initially charmed and impressed Eno, Hassell's eclectic Vernal Equinox, blended a mystical suffused atmosphere of the Middle East with vaporous trials of South America and the Orient to the West to create minimalistic transmissions from a timeless geography. A meeting at the performance artist space The Kitchen cemented the deal that would see Eno produce Hassell's, now iconic, visionary Fourth World Vol.1: Possible Musics.
In many respects a continuation of that previous Vernal Equinox study, Fourth World Vol.1: Possible Musics would expand the blueprint further; going beyond this world into the ether. From that album, Hassell would once again bring in the celebrated Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos, as well as add Senegalese drummer Ayibe Dieng to the line up of strangely esoteric African and Arabesque instrumentation.
Untethered to any particular landscape and age (though traversing for the most part the mysterious, veiled continent of a inter-dimensional Africa), geographical and environmental alluded titles act as points of reference; alluding both to such diverse subject matter as the traditional songs of the Central African pygmy tribes (Ba-Benzéle) and the latitudes and weather phenomenon of an undisclosed landscape or city (Rising Thermal 14° 16' N; 32° 28' E).
Moving at a similar pace throughout, the lingering vapours drift over and enclose the listener; hinting always at some mystical or miasma presence; steeping each composition in a sepia of low emitting foggy harbour like droning horns, plastic pipe sounding percussion, tape echo experimentation, panoramic glides over the savannahs and of course Hassell's stripped bare, reedy and masked stirring trumpet.
An almost continues set of transient movements, the mood varied from lightly administered rhythmically slow paced pieces to cerebral blankets of panoptic memory; a style coined as "future primitive".
It's a well thought out, intricate and stirring album, well Hassell would take the stance that he certainly wasn't messing around, and was deadly serious, but whilst his touch and sonic interference can be heard throughout, Eno plays it very subtly. The relationship between the two has proved to be anything but harmonious however, as a recent interview with Pat Thomas, conducted earlier this year, and included with the sleeve notes, will testify. Hassell remarks that it suited him at the time to involve Eno and have his name on the album, as he garnered a bigger audience and might earn him some money for a change; though as it transpired many would assume this was an Eno project, and it would be filed in record stores under the British interloper rather than the album's creator: as Hassell would so eloquently explain it, "I used to describe it as a "cancer cure," right? I was cured of the cancer of obscurity but my hair fell out."
It's no coincidence that barely two weeks after the album was mastered, Eno - after suggesting a further project with Hassell but with the inclusion of his new ennui bedfellow David Byrne of Talking Heads, who himself had become curious enough to drift into the studio during the Fourth World Vol.1: Possible Musics sessions to get in on the recording - slopped off to L.A. to record what would be My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts instead. Leaving Hassell waiting at the other end of the country, disconnected from what amounted to a Bryne and Eno takeover of his unique transcendental and peregrination music style, the three-way concept never materialised, though they would work together on future projects, regardless of the acrimony: Hassell upset at the infringement of his committed and serious, "composers" music by a "...art school graduate that picked up a guitar."
What may seem a departure or experimental branching-out for the much celebrated burgeoning Glitterbeat Record label (followers and visitors to my site will know we've backed and featured their roster of African stars since day one). Attuned to the sounds of West Africa, with a special emphasis on Mali, the German based label, co-owned by The Walkabouts Chris Eckman - who's own polygenesis band of African and western musicians, Dirt Music, release records under the label -, have heard a connection in this iconic work. With its imaginary roots and undemarcated borders, yet distinct illusions of sand dunes, rain forests, mountain ranges and the veldt, it would seem a congruous addition to their already, spiritual and exotic travails.