The Wexner Center for the Arts
February 5, 2009
Jon Hassell and his band Maarifa Street entered the stage of The Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio a few minutes before their scheduled 8pm start. The house lights were still up, and the leader explained they we were witnessing his band warming up. Strange doings, because the band never exited, and there was no segue into the actually performance. The lights merely dimmed and without introductions we were transported into Hassell's self-described "Fourth World."
Playing music from his recent release Last Night The Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes On The Street (ECM), Hassell together with bassist Jan Bang, Algerian violinist Khei-Eddine M'Kachiche, and live sampling electronics artist Peter Freeman and Dino J.A. Deane presented music seemingly in perfect harmony with the one very cold dark February night.
The band opened with "Abu Gil," and while those unfamiliar with Hassell's music might have the kneejerk reaction that a drummer might really have tied the room together, the groove was to be found somewhere between the lines. As the trumpeter quoted the famous by Juan Tizol classic "Caravan" his signature intonation sounded like a kind of multiple-xerox of the original with all the implications of dust and deterioration.
Hassell's band Maarifa Street is comprised of sympathetic players sporting more technology than the early NASA Apollo space capsules, nonetheless sounding primitive all the same. It sounds like a collision of Miles Davis and Gil Evans' Sketches Of Spain and Weather Report's 8:30. Khei- Eddine M'Kachiche played his instrument like a cello, holding it on his thigh. His music sounded both mid- Eastern and Eastern. When he and Hassell managed a bit of detached call-and-response, it was as if they were playing in different room of a very large house. And so did other members of the group, except the bassist Peter Freeman whose patient and thunderous stentorian voice seemed to gather the disparate parts together.
Playing music amazingly faithful to the new recording, confirms the grounded nature of this ethereal music making. Presented live, the observer can pick up on the real time sampling and loops Band and Deane were casting, while Hassell orchestrated the affair with the slightest of gesture.
Then there is Hassell's trumpet sound, legendary and celebrated. Like a seeing old video footage of Charlie Parker, and finally connecting that sound with this image. He plays holding this trumpet like a bottle of wine drunk through a straw. But the sound he produces is both epicurean and primitive. And the experience of Hassell live was a rare treat.