25 years after his last ECM recording, the highly-influential “Power Spot” (recorded in 1983/84), Jon Hassell returns to the label with a new album - issued to coincide with the trumpeter’s first US tour in two decades.
“Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street” takes its title from a line from a 13th century poem by Jalaluddin Rumi:
“Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street.
I took it as a sign to start singing.
Falling up into the bowl of sky.”
The striking, almost surreally-vivid image (in Coleman Barks’ contemporary translation) seems to speak to Hassell’s aural re-imaginings. His own ‘singing’ opens up new angles of vision, as his very vocal trumpet lines are reframed in works that contrast, combine, or melt together aspects of ancient and hypermodern idioms in a musical meta-language which can embrace sounds from all the compass points, sounds of the city, sounds of the natural world. In the past Hassell’s termed his personal genre Fourth World: by any name inspirational, its implications have registered with pop and rap and jazz artists as well as classical chamber musicians and filmmakers… And purely as an instrumentalist, Hassell’s influence has been widely felt, too. Nils Petter Molvaer , Arve Henriksen and Paolo Fresu are but three ECM-associated trumpeters who acknowledge a debt to the liquid tone and weightless, floating quality of Jon Hassell’s trumpet improvisations, and to his pioneering use of electronics in tandem with his horn.
Hassell describes the music of “Last night the moon” as “a continuous piece, almost symphonic, with a cinematic construction” and drifting “clouds made out of many motifs” . Core material is drawn from a session at Studios La Buisonne near Avignon in April 2008, with detail added in Los Angeles in November and December. Live recordings from Courtrais, Belgium and London, as well as a remix of a piece originally created for a Wim Wenders movie, are also integrated into the atmospheric, filmic flow, along with short samples snared throughout 2008.
Jon Hassell: “The word ‘montage’ pops out of my memory bank...Not only does it describe the little montages that serve as transitions between longer pieces (themselves montages of motifs that keep reappearing in new contexts) but the music presented here is a montage of the last years of concerts and the changing cast of the group I call Maarifa Street – all musicians who have contributed their personalities – the way an actor does to a film – to this living, morphing process that occasionally gets set down as a ‘record’.”
Jon Hassell was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and grew up with ears alert to divergent aspects of the jazz tradition, one early influence including Maynard Ferguson’s “stratospheric” trumpeting with the Stan Kenton Orchestra. While studying at the Eastman School of Music Hassell became increasingly interested in serial music and more experimental expressions of the new music avant-garde, in the mid-60s travelling to Cologne to study with Karlheinz Stockhausen. Returning to New York in 1967 he met and befriended Terry Riley. Hassell played on Riley’s landmark recording “In C”, and was introduced by him to La Monte Young with whose Dream House project he toured through the 1970s. An encounter with the music of Indian singer Pandit Pran Nath proved pivotal. Hassell studied extensively with Pran Nath, subsequently incorporating vocal inflections of raga into his trumpet playing, developing a new style for his instrument and his music as a whole. “Vernal Equinox” (1977) laid down the matrix of the idiosyncratic yet wide-open idiom Hassell has continued to develop and redefine over the last three decades: “My aim was to make a music that was vertically integrated in such a way that at any cross-sectional moment you were not able to pick a single element out as being from a particular country or genre of music.”
In 1986 Brian Eno, a frequent collaborator, would observe that “Jon Hassell is an inventor of new forms of music – of new ideas of what music could be and how it might be made. His work is drawn from his whole cultural experience without fear or prejudice. It is an optimistic, global vision that suggests not only possible musics but possible futures.” An enticing proposal for the most diverse musicians, Hassell’s collaborators over the years have ranged from Peter Gabriel to the Kronos Quartet, Ry Cooder and Bono, and his trumpet performances have featured on recordings with Björk, Baaba Maal, Ibrahim Ferrer, Ani di Franco, David Sylvian, the Talking Heads and many others.
Additionally his playing and/or music has been heard in numerous films including “The Last Temptation of Christ”, “Trespass”, “Wild Side”, “Greenwich Mean Time”, “Angel Eyes” , “Owning Mahowny”, “Million Dollar Hotel” and more.
Jon Hassell’s albums as a leader are “Vernal Equinox” (1977), “Earthquake Island” (1978), “Fourth World Vol 1: Possible Musics” (1980), “Fourth World Vol. 2 : Dream Theory In Malaya” (1981), “Aka-Darbari-Java / Magic Realism” (1983), “Power Spot” (1986), “The Surgeon Of The Nightsky Restores Dead Things By The Power Of Sound” (1987), “Flash Of The Spirit” (1988), “City: Works Of Fiction” (1990), “Dressing For Pleasure” (1994), “Sulla Strada” (1995), “The Vertical Collection” (1997), “Fascinoma” (1999), “Maarifa Street / Magic Realism 2” (2005), “Last Night The Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes In The Street” (2009).
Since 2005 he has led the collective Maarifa Street, with whom he will perform on his February 2009 tour. Dates are:
February 5: Columbus, OH (Wexner Center)
February 6: Knoxville, TN (Bijou Theater)
February 8: Philadelphia, PA (World Cafe Live)
February 10: New York, NY (Zankel Hall)
February 12: Minneapolis, MN (Walker Arts Center)
February 13: Los Angeles, CA (Royce Hall)
February 14: Vancouver Jazz Festival (Chan Center for Performing Arts)
In April 2009, Jon Hassell and Brian Eno deliver their “Conversation Piece” at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. This “conversational remix”, an animated juxtaposing of philosophies of life, art and music, was premiered to acclaim at Norway’s Punkt Festival in 2008.