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The Times NOVEMBER 25, 1981 - by Richard Williams

A WORLD OF DREAMS

JON HASSELL: PUBLIC THEATRE, NEW YORK

One of a number of musicians presently dreaming of a "world music" in which various ethnic strains are reconciles, the American trumpeter Jon Hassell has achieved an approach which is producing work of quite extraordinary beauty. A former student of Stockhausen and the Indian singer Pandit Pran Nath, and a collaborator with La Monte Young, Terry Riley and Brian Eno, Hassell blends his experiences in such a way that the components - African drumming, Indian microtonality, Balinese tranquillity - make a new palette while forfeiting none of the individual colours.

Hassell and his group, which includes two percussionists, a bass guitarist and a fifth member whose function is to provide electronic treatments, performed twice in New York at the weekend, not only emphasising the good impressions made by two recent recordings, Possible Musics and Dream Theory In Malaya, but suggesting that their discoveries could achieve a popularity beyond the confines of the downtown avant garde.

The content of the music may have evolved from a complex of ideas, but the structure is simple and immediately accessible. The percussionists (variously employing congas, hand-clapping, tablas and bowls) and the bassist set up a light rhythmic continuum, prepared tapes provide textures (including discreet "found noises" such as desert winds and barking dogs) and Hassell improvises over the results in the manner, although not the style, of a jazz soloist.

The melodic content of Hassell's line, whose rapid curling phrases glance weightlessly off the background figurations, is remarkable enough, but the sound he produces is utterly mesmerising and gives the music its signature.

The nature of the event, with Hassell sitting quietly on a cushion and pointing his bell down to a microphone positioned on the floor, candlelight defining the outlines of his clustered accompanists, may have been reminiscent of the '60s, but the rapt attention of the audience suggested that, whatever one's reservations about contemporary eclecticism, here is a synthesis which delivers the goods and which certainly deserves the widest possible exposure.


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