Jon Hassell


atmospherics: stories in words and pictures

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MOJO / July 2005 / Mike Barnes
Four Stars * * * *
"It's amazing how spontaneous this set sounds considering that it derives from four concerts, with parts chopped up, replayed, moved from one performance to another or even taken from previous recordings. Hassell had been erring towards a slicker triphop infused sound of late. But 'Divine SOS' starts proceedings here with a buoyant hi-hat groove evocative of Miles Davis's In A Silent Way, although it drops out from time to time leaving dubby spaces. One tends to forget what an individual sound Hassell has until he duets on the only 'undoctored' recording here with fellow trumpeter Paolo Fresu; his instrument sounds more like some buzzing, fizzing firefly than an instrument made of brass. His lines, full of terse melodic figures, are affecting throughout, especially on the title track. Here Hassell takes the spotlight in a meditative excursion, as the group provide an ambient backdrop."

PLAYBOY (France)
Five Stars * * * * *
"Jon Hassell is an extraterrestrial in the jazz galaxy...
Teeming with details, free as the wind blowing in the desert, this celestial jazz is amazing. Edgy but eminently accessible, Maarifa Street leads us to the peaks where the distant horizon becomes a mirage which this music embraces. An unbelievable invitation to meditation."

THE WIRE (UK) / March 2005 / Colin Buttimer
"Music which conveys the impression of gossamer-like veils floating gradually to earth.... at once eery and beautiful."

CD REVIEWS.COM / May 2005 / Peter Dolan
"Ever listened to really early Pink Floyd? 'Interstellar Overdrive' era Floyd? Or King Crimson? There's something special about certain types of music. They reach in behind the ears...and pull out things that you could swear never belonged to you...Jon Hassell's Maarifa Street: Magical Realism II is an immersive experience... This is music that plays with the ephemeral curtain between the conscious and the unconscious. No...really."

ARTHUR / September 2005 / John Payne
"Maarifa is...well. it's music that one wants never to end...incredibly seductive...fragrant sound structures soothe and stimulate like a soak in ambrosial seas...the best of Hassell's formidable achievements."

THE WIRE / March 2005 / Colin Buttimer
"The journey to Maarifa Street from its predecessor Fascinoma has taken six years: an appreciable interval in which the likes of Nils Molvaer, Arve Henriksen and Erik Truffaz have forged solo careers influenced to varying degrees both by Hassell's ideas and playing style. Two years before Fascinoma, The Vertical Collection presented eleven tracks made up entirely of samples of Hassell's back-catalogue reconfigured, with the trumpeter's approval, by Peter Freeman who supplies bass and programming on Maarifa Street. The outcome was comparable to the shuffling of a Tarot deck: same cards, different outcomes. Although the approach potentially signalled a new level of introspection, a fascination for the sampling of resonant external sources was already woven into the DNA of Hassell's oeuvre, in the call of night creatures on Vernal Equinox or the amalgam of pygmies, gamelan and exotic '50s orchestrations on Aka-Darbari-Java.

"Maarifa Street ('maarifa' means knowledge or wisdom in Arabic) in part represents a further act of taking stock. Small elements of earlier pieces are intermittently deployed as semi-structural elements or tonal shading. Thus, the edgy rhythm of 'The Gods, They Must Be Crazy' from 1994's Dressing For Pleasure intermittently cuts into 'New Gods' while 'Darbari Bridge' rearranges various elements from 1983's Aka-Darbari-Java...Attentive listening...reveals a much more subtle undertaking that gradually suffuses the mind like a mixture of scents both familiar and foreign, earthy and delicate. The insertion of motifs from previous recordings invites contemplation of the Zen Buddhist concept of the Eternal Now as well as questions about the motive force of innovation. These sonic keepsakes also tease playfully at the memory, forcing the listener up and out of the immediate moment into unexpected reminiscence. They also act as shared territory between past and present and serve to reinvigorate the earlier music. However, most of Maarifa Street is newly recorded music which conveys the impression of gossamer-like veils floating gradually to earth. These layers are flecked through with contemporary electronic sounds and occasionally Dhafer Youssef's heartfelt yell, which is firmly located in the middle distance.

"Maarifa Street is the product of three concert performances and extensive studio reconfiguring that has resulted in a hybrid form more complex than its untreated parts might otherwise have offered up. Alongside the sonic and temporal weaving, Hassell also stirs in a number of references, primary among which is his dedication of the album to the late Mati Klarwein whose painting 'Crucifixion' illustrates the sleeve. Touchingly, the field recording of sheep bells that rounds out 'Open Secret (Paris)' was captured on a visit to the painter's Mallorca home. Combined with Youssef's oud playing this evokes images of a prelapsarian idyll. Hassell's own playing throughout is as rich and sensual as ever, his sound floating over and through the music like a gulf stream current or autumnal Saharan wind. The closing 'Open Secret (Milano)' features a duet between Hassell and the Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu, whose open playing evokes the spirit of Miles Davis. The resulting music is at once eery and beautiful, backward and forward looking: a suitable conclusion to Jon Hassell's thirteenth album."

AMAZON.COM (Editorial Review by John Diliberto)
"In an era of world fusions and unlikely global collaborations, Jon Hassell continues reformulating the alchemy of his Fourth World music in fascinating and original ways. Maarifa Street is his first electric album in some time, and it's a deliriously seductive brew of Miles Davis-meets-dub stuttered through sampled groove fractures. Drawn from live recordings made over the last few years, the album illustrates Hassell's gift for carving soundscapes in real time, laying his breathy, harmonized trumpet lines across an interior panorama of ambient voodoo jazz. Playing mostly with guitar mutant Rick Cox over deep dub bass lines from Peter Freeman, Hassell's music is fractal in its constant reinvention. The deeper you go, the more varied it becomes, as self-similar patterns are spun and shaped into ever more complex designs. Tunisian singer Dhafer Youssef adds his desert cries to Hassell's verdant mix on tracks like 'Divine S.O.S.' and 'Open Secret.' Although Maarifa Street's source material is live, the sound is studio-designed, with performances mixed, matched, and collaged in a fashion not unlike the cover by Abdul Mati Klarwein (who did Santana's Abraxas and Miles Davis's Bitches Brew). With an extreme stereo mix, instruments appear, shift, morph, and swirl, as if on a slo-mo carousel plopped into a global bazaar of the imagination. The subtitle of the album is Magic Realism 2, marking it as a sequel to Aka-Darbari-Java, Hassell's 1983 album of mosaic-like designs. But Maarifa Street is easier to grab onto, and the throbbing bass, programmed pulse fragments, and his innately melodic trumpet carry you through this strange world."

TIME OUT (UK) / Kerstan Mackness
"Play trumpeter Hassell's latest album on iTunes and the genre will come up as "unclassifiable." They'd be just about right. Hassell has been out on his own since his Fourth World collaboration with Brian Eno in the '80's; their fusion of world, jazz and electronica paving the way for trance and ambient world music. Recorded live and then reimagined in the studio, this is his best and funkiest album in years, filled with subterranean bass grooves, big ambient swells, Dhafer Youssef's otherworldly vocals and tons of Hassell's haunting 'Miles in space' trumpet."


LONG DISTANCE CALL / Richard Williams
Aurum Press / London 2000
Essays on Duke Ellington, Curtis Mayfield, Frank Sinatra, Ry Cooder, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Chet Baker, et al.

"Although the emphasis might seem to be on the past, the book's real subject is the life of this music in the present. And, anyway, the past is not where I live. While I was compiling the pieces and rejigging them for publication I was aslo listening to Julian Arguelles' 'Falling Curtain' (from Escapade), Cesaria Evoria's Cafe Atlantico, Roscoe Mitchell's Nine to Get Ready, Macy Gray's On How Life Is, Jon Hassell's 'Nature Boy' and 'Caravanesque' (from Fascinoma), Brad Mehldau's 'London Blues' (from Art of the Trio Vol 4), Counting Crows' 'Mrs. Potter's Lullaby' (from This Desert Life) and Alberto Iglesias's soundtrack to Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother, all created in the last year of the century...Sooner or later, the new century will make us see things differently. Eventually we may find ourselves looking back at the work of these musicians as a legacy, instead of living alongside it. But no one really knows about that. The music makes itself up as it goes along, and so will the future."

A Photographic Essay by Steven Gross / Oxford University Press
"As the twentieth century draws to a close, the global village can claim but a handful of visionary artists able to transcend artificial cultural boundaries and tap into a universally comprehensible and compelling language. One thinks of the musician Jon Hassell's ethereal experiments fusing ancient and ethnic traditions with jazz, hip-hop, and electronic musics. In dance, there is the convergence of Zen and avant-garde in the work of Merce Cunningham, and of African styles and urban modernity in Garth Fagan, New York griot.

"The Zhou Brothers have staked a claim to a similarly preeminent position in painting, with works that partake of prehistoric image-making and the unfettered expressionism that is part of the Western modernist tradition."

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