Although the veteran American ranks as one of the foremost exponents of ambient electronica, or is also seen as ‘Brian Eno’s brass partner’, according to more glib observers, he has always been much more than that. The hovering tempos, intricate latticing of textures and incremental shifting in his songs may indeed justify such classification but Hassell’s aesthetic is not reducible to that of a super producer who moves samples around like pieces on a chessboard.
The reason why some of his defining statements, none more so than the ‘80s classics Fourth World, Flash Of The Spirit and The Surgeon Of The Night Sky Restores Dead Things By The Power Of Sound have been so influential is because they retain the strong imprint of a composer, player and arranger as well as programmer. For all the audio modernity of Hassell’s music there is a clear basis in non-western traditions, particularly from India, as well as the heritage of the key sound adventurers in jazz, and if you listen to the microscopic attention to detail of Rhasaan Roland Kirk’s ‘The Inflated Tear’, you can better understand the course Hassell plots through the world of multi-phonics and polyrhythms.
This latest work is a fruitful consolidation and extension of his trademark vocabulary, with all of the deeply evocative, often wistful sentiment one would expect. Hassell doing Hassell could potentially be problematic but there are enough surges of newness to allay such fears. There is no complacency in the gorgeously feline purr of some lines and the aquatic slide of others; the double time percussion loops over floating, glassy chords; the distinctively flute-like timbre of the trumpet – the kernel of what Arve Henriksen has grown in his own way. Hassell uses his horn to play heraldic themes as if he were announcing the arrival of a revered Royal, but the court is in the Digital age where commoners have freedom of the city.
Jon Hassell, Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume One)