Music

Jon Hassell's Argument for a Fourth World Continues with 'Seeing Through Sound'

Photo: Courtesy of Ndeya via Bandcamp

At 83, it's clear Jon Hassell's music is forever contemporary. All he's had to do is leave open space for the next exploration, as he does on Seeing Through Sound.

Seeing Through Sound (Pentimento Volume Two)
Jon Hassell

Ndeya

24 July 2020

Two years ago, the then 81-year-old Jon Hassell claimed in an interview that he was working on a book, The North and South of You. As an explanation for the title, he stated, "It's the analysis of our current situation in terms of our overemphasis on the north of us, the rational and technological, instead of the south of us. North is logic, south is the samba -- and how much more of each would you rather have when the time comes to depart the planet?"

While this comes off as more than a bit reductive, it also shows a musician who recognizes the tendency that many have of valuing the intellectual pursuit over the celebration. That he has spent so much of his life paying attention to the music of the world and channeling bits of more traditional sounds from such places as Morocco or Indonesia certainly puts him in a perfect place to question "our current situation". Even if his need to intellectually categorize this cultural intersection, "fourth world" sheds some unwanted irony on his above reflection.

And that "fourth world" is the place where the music of any number of cultures is synthesized for something that becomes its own classification. Arguably, Miles Davis dabbled in it on his mid-1970s masterpieces, though a better jazz-related example would be Don Cherry, especially his brilliant Brown Rice LP. Jacques Coursil took the trumpet deep into multi-tracked solo bliss with his astounding 2005 LP Minimal Brass. Meanwhile, Jacques Berrocal continues to use his horn to push his music into everything from avant-punk to an undefinable glossolalia thanks to work with Ghedalia Tazartes and others. And contemporary experimental cornetist Ben LaMar Gay has created sounds informed in some way by other cultures to produce tracks that sometimes defy category.

But Hassell's calm middle-register playing, certainly influenced by Davis, has done more to marry his trumpet to subtle, shape-shifting rhythms that borrow from the world to create a language all his own than any of the above. In this way, he has quietly proved himself to be as influential as Davis, or any of the other musical artists we tend to place at the top of the innovator pedestal.

Seeing Through Sound, volume two in his Pentimento series (volume one was 2018's Listening to Pictures), continues Hassell's understated, seemingly-formless dance with scuttling electronics. However, this doesn't feel like a part two of that 2018 release. Here, the ambience is softer, the lights are dim, the rhythms echoing in the distance. While his first release, 1977's Vernal Equinox, just re-issued this year, might make the perfect place to start on a long journey with Hassell's work, this record will do just as well.

His music is always about the journey, his trumpet sometimes playing so quiet as to go unnoticed. "Lunar", for example, is a boat ride through an evening jungle. The trumpet melody may act as a guide, but deep percussive reverberations bounce in the background as squiggles of insect-noise appear out of the murk. Less nebulous is the opening track "Fearless", which allows Hassell's trumpet to bob in and out of a groove. Albeit it's one where the pulse is constantly challenged (but never capsized) by keyboard jabs, scurrying strings, or the sound of what might be a reverb-drenched ping pong ball.

From the deeper drones and hisses of "Unknown Wish" to the slightly pulsating almost-jazz of "Delicado", where Hassell's minimal keyboard finds common ground with the Necks, this feels like the work of an artist continuing explorations influenced as much by Pandit Pran Nath or Algerian zindalii as Miles. No wonder everyone from Brian Eno to Björk has worked with him. No surprise either that the current crop of electronic musicians, from Visible Cloaks to "outsider house" artist Huerco S, claim him as an influence. At 83, it's clear Hassell's music is forever contemporary. All he's had to do is leave open space for the next exploration.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.

Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".

Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.