Now in his ninth decade, trumpeter, composer, and sonic conceptualist Jon Hassell remains a restless musical explorer. While he hasn’t released an album under his own name since 2009’s Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street on ECM, he’s been working to further the Fourth World concept articulated fully on 1980’s Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics and 1981’s Dream Theory in Malaya. Hassell utilized the aesthetics of American minimalism and married them to strands of electric modal jazz, the various global musics he studied, and electronics. He not only employed these on his own records, but in collaborations with everyone from kd lang and 808 State to Ry Cooder, Björk, David Sylvian, and even Tears for Fears.
Listening to Pictures is subtitled “Pentimento, Vol. 1.” The first word in the term refers to an Italian visual art technique that signifies the reappearance of earlier altered and covered-over images inside a primary work. On these eight tracks, Hassell uses his own performance fragments and samples, then overdubs and samples them ad nauseum onto other manipulated sounds and rhythms, ultimately creating new forms. His primary collaborators here are guitarist Rick Cox, drummer John Von Seggern, and electric violinist Hugh Marsh (all of whom also play “electronics”), as well as guests such as sound sculptor/guitarist Eivind Aarset, drummer Ralph Cumbers (aka Bass Clef), and longtime collaborator, violinist Kheir Eddine M’Kachiche. Opener “Dreaming” finds Hassell’s blurry trumpet hovering over a series of barely discernible piano vamps to offer a noirish, yet gentle rounded melody in tones that never develop past their introductory stage, and don’t need to.
“Picnic” employs a Roland 808, quivering, quaking drum machines, elliptical sonic frequencies, and washed-out keyboards to affect a reverie that exists in the space between light and darkness. “Al Kongo Udu” and “Pastorale Vassant” both move rhythmically from syncopated ambient jungle to broken beat fractures with sampled African drums rubbing up against rickety synthetic ones. “Manga Scene” blends Hassell’s watery, muted modal trumpet to glitchy beats and ominous, dissonant backdrops.
The robotic-sounding intro to “Her First Rain” is interspersed with post-bop piano, dubwise bass and drums, squiggles, and loops before the set closes with “Ndeya” (also the name of his new label) and weaves together the tenets of an elusive, seductive Fourth World past with “Pentimento” the present; it’s a “now” that Hassell explains as “…letting your inner ears scan up and down the sonic spectrum, asking what kind of ‘shapes’ you’re seeing, then noticing how that picture morphs as the music moves through Time.” In truth, the listener cannot help but remain in the eternal twilight moments Listening to Pictures introduces. It is a music of sense and memory perceptions, a sonic projection equal to but different from the sources that inspired it. When all are assembled, they constitute a deep, mysterious, and occasionally disruptive journey into shade, texture, nuance, and seductive persuasion. (by Thom Jurek)
Rick Cox (guitar, synthesizer, electronics)
Jon Hassell (trumpet, keyboards)
Hugh Marsh (violin, electronics)
John von Seggern (bass, drums, electronics)
Eivind Aarset (guitar, sampler on 08.)
Ralph Cumbers (drum programmin on 02.)
Peter Freeman (bass, electronics on 02., 03. + 07.)
Christoph Harbonnier (basss on 03.)
Christian Jacob (bass on 03.)
Kheir-Eddine M’Kachiche (violin, sampler on 08.)
Michel Redolfi (electronics on 03.)
01. Dreaming 6.09
02. Picnic 5.58
03. Slipstream 2.54
04. Al-Kongo Udu 5.12
05. Pastorale Vassant 3.59
06. Manga Scene 5.44
07. Her First Rain 1.38
08. Ndeya 7:07
Music composed by Jon Hassell