Thursday, April 16, 2009

Jon Hassell - Last Night The Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes In The Street

Released last February, this ECM recording from the somewhat veiled yet influential trumpet player Jon Hassell is his first for the label in more than 20 years. In the meantime he released a number of albums for other labels, steadily giving more and more definition to the style of music he describes as "Fourth World". He coined this term as early as 1980 (hear Fourth World: Possible Musics with Brian Eno from that year) to refer to music which combines jazz improvisation, futuristic electronics, atmospheric ambience, and ethnic influences.

Fans of the Norwegian free improvisation troup Supersilent will immediately draw comparisons between Hassell's airy, floating trumpet tone and that of Arve Henriksen. Besides having both recorded for ECM, and sharing a delicateness of tone and penchant for thoughtful improvisation, the two are linked further by mutual involvement with Jan Bang, who controls the electronic samples on this album. However, the atmosphere of Last Night The Moon Came... is distinct from anything Arve Henriksen has had a hand in. The opening track "Aurora", a wash of electronic textures over a minimal bass ostinato, with almost no melody, sounds closer to releases on 12k Records or Hearts in Space than any I've heard on ECM or Rune Grammofon. It's a beautiful commencement to the album, and one that gives the listener no sense at all of how many musicians are involved. Besides Hassell and Bang, we have Rick Cox and Eivind Aarset on guitars, Peter Freeman on bass and a laptop, Jamie Muhoberac on keyboards and a laptop, Kheir Eddine M Kachiche on violin, and drummers Helge Andreas Norbakken and Pete Lockett.

Despite the size of the lineup and richness of instrumentation, the music throughout this album is almost always highly subdued and sparse in texture. There are no crescendoes or sudden changes in direction anywhere, there are no choruses, the songs plod along at a mostly uniform tempo (very slow), and most of the melodic content is fairly unmemorable. These statements are not meant to detract from the quality of the album, however; only to demonstrate that it is far from a typical ECM release, and instead lives in a world of Hassell's own, dominated by meanderings through quasicomposed mires of sound. At times, like on the very short but supremely effective interlude "Clairvoyance", the result is devastatingly beautiful. On the other hand, another even shorter interlude, "Scintilla", features a lovely violin gesture but isn't given the opportunity to do much else, and its inclusion almost feels superfluous. For different reasons, one wishes both of these tracks were more fleshed out.

The meat of the album is found in the longer tracks, two of which go past the ten minute mark. The Fender Rhodes in "Abu Gil" makes the track reminiscent of Miles Davis' In A Silent Way, but with a stronger Indian influence and much more ambience. The outstanding title track is halfway between a moody Steve Roach drone and an organic chamber improv, with Hassell's overdubbed trumpet producing warm harmonies over the most minimal of beats, joined by violin flourishes and low-key electronic sound effects.

If there are any serious criticisms to make about this album, it's only that the last quarter of it begins to feel redundant. No individual track is weak in terms of musicianship, but the listener paying close attention may tire of the overall sound and mood of the album, which is for the most part dreary and listless, before it's finished. This could have been remedied by replacing the last tracks with some more dynamic and explorative ones, but that would have taken away from the purity of the whole. For providing a unique aura anywhere it's played, the album is perfect as it is. Jon Hassell's "Fourth World" vision, refined over decades, has culminated in a remarkable release, and what he does next is anybody's guess, though it's sure to be of interest.


1 comment:

icastico said...

Just found you.
Lots of beautiful music here.
Those who like Hassell should enjoy these.