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Jon Hassell / Farafina: Flash Of The Spirit

Chris May By

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The trumpeter and keyboard player Jon Hassell is often labelled a practitioner of ambient music. This is a misconstruction resulting mainly from Hassell's encounters with Brian Eno, who is widely perceived as ambient's originator. Hassell's oeuvre, a technologically enabled fusion of western and non-western musics which he calls Fourth World, is a wholly different kettle of fish.

Eno defines ambient as "music that does not demand the listener's attention but rewards such attention if it is given." The complexity and restless motivic-development of Fourth World sets it apart from the stasis aspired to by ambient and actively invites the listener's attention. Hassell describes it as "coffee-coloured classical music" in which the "allowable" musical vocabulary is expanded to include influences from beyond the European tradition, creating "serious music with transcultural appeal and a smile."

Hassell launched Fourth World with Vernal Equinox (Lovely) in 1978, though he did not brand it until Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics (EG) in 1980, which Eno co-produced. A second Hassell / Eno collaboration, Dream Theory In Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two (EG, 1981), was the first indisputable masterpiece in the style. In both cases, Eno's input, which was considerable, was technological and enabling rather than conceptual, as it also was on Flash Of The Spirit, originally released on Intuition in 1988.

Unusually for Hassell, Flash Of The Spirit is mainly acoustic. It features Farafina, an eight-piece drums and percussion ensemble from Burkina Faso in West Africa. Eno mixed five tracks, Daniel Lanois another five. Each makes post-production interventions, but most of the electronic content comes from Hassell's keyboard-activated sounds sourced from trumpet, strings and harp.

Hassell deliberately approached Flash Of The Spirit as the ninth member of Farafina rather than a cut-and-paste arranger / producer / reimaginer. That deference is both the strength and weakness of the album. It presents Farafina more coherently than the Rolling Stones did on Steel Wheels (CBS, 1989), where the band is buried in the mix on "Continental Drift." But doing so precludes Hassell applying the 360-degree, deep-strata Fourth World paradigm. The album actually, and untypically, more closely resembles a field recording.

Despite its relatively minor status in Hassell's canon, Glitterbeat are to be thanked for reissuing the album. It follows their reissue of Dream Theory In Malaya in 2018, the same year Hassell released his career defining, self-produced treasure, Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume One), on his own Ndeya label.

Track Listing

Flash Of The Spirit (Laughter); Night Moves (Fear); Air Afrique (Wind); Out Pours (Kongo) Blue (Prayer); Kaboo (Play); (Like) Warriors Everywhere (Courage); Dreamworld (Dance); Tales Of The Near Future (Clairvoyance); A Vampire Dances (Symmetry); Masque Strength).

Personnel

Jon Hassell: trumpet, keyboards. Farafina: Mahama Konaté: first balafon; Baba Diarra: second balafon; Paco Yé: drums, djembe; Seydou Ouattara: first bara; Beh Palm: second bara; Tiawara Keita: tama, soucou; Soungalo Coulibaly: flute, percussion; Soulyame Sanou: shekere. Daniel Lanois: mix (1-3, 7, 10); Brian Eno: mix (4-6, 8, 9). Additional musicians: Daniel Schwartz: electric bass (7); J.A. Deane: percussion-activated sounds.

Additional information

Title: Flash Of The Spirit | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Glitterbeat

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