Jon Hassell: Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street

John Kelman By

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Jon Hassell
Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street
ECM Records

While he's rarely been out of action, the past couple years have seen a significant increase in the public exposure of trumpeter Jon Hassell, especially in Europe. Hassell may not be as well-known, say, as Miles Davis, but amongst a broadening group of musicians and listeners, it's become clear that his influence may well be no less pervasive—just, perhaps, more understated and subversive. While Hassell has continued to release albums periodically over the past decade—notably the sublime, uncharacteristically acoustic Fascinoma (Waterlily Acoustics, 1999) and sultry Maarifa Street: Magic Realism, Vol. 2 (Nyen, 2005)— Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street is the trumpeter's first album for ECM since 1985's Power Spot and, with the label's greater international reach and a major North American tour on the horizon, it may well be the album that introduces the innovative artist to a larger listening public and clarifies just how significant he has been and continues to be.

It's no hyperbole to suggest that without Jon Hassell there'd be no annual Punkt Festival, nor would artists like Arve Henriksen, Nils Petter Molvaer and David Sylvian (amongst others) be quite the same. Hassell's innovations in the areas of live sampling, real-time soundscaping and a musical confluence that he refers to as "The North and South of You"—meaning the cerebral/intellectual versus the physical/sensual—have inspired so many artists since his early collaborations with legendary producer/ambient music forefather Brian Eno that, while his name may not be as well-known as it should, it's an undeniable truth that the entire musical world would be a very different place without him.

While Hassell has made some detours along the course of his career, what's perhaps most remarkable is that his vision was so well-formed from the beginning, that it's indeed possible to draw a straight line from early, seminal albums including Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics (E.G. 1980) and Power Spot, through to Last night the moon came. The technology has improved, better allowing him to translate what he hears into reality, but so many of the markers from the beginning remain. Hassell's lush, inescapable tone—part embouchure, part electronics—combines spare, thoughtful melodies with an unadorned and pure sensuality. The soundscape he creates is equal parts musical conception and improvisational acumen—in this case, with the participation of a large group of players including long-time bassist Peter Freeman, North African virtuoso violinist Kheir Eddine M'Kacich, and Norwegian newcomers Jan Bang (live sampling) and Eivind Aarset (guitar).

At the core of the album are its two longest tracks, easily summarizing Hassell's electronics-drenched multidisciplinary, multidimensional and multicultural approach to creating a sound world unlike any other, where the mix is as important as the music being played. "Abu Gil" takes shape gradually—Freeman's viscerally key yet somehow unobtrusive bass only beginning to push the groove half way through its 13 minutes, with Hassell's harmonized trumpet referencing Duke Ellington's "Caravan" throughout. Aarset's guitar creates subtle sonic shifts while M'Kachiche's rarified melodies bring a hint of the Middle East, even as Bang samples bits and pieces of all these elements, processes them and feeds them back to the group in real time.

The 11-minute title track—which closed Hassell's performance at Punkt '08—is based on a simple, repetitively trance-inducing string figure, but the combination of Hassell's measured phrases, M'Kachiche's soft lines and the near- imperceptible introduction of Freeman and drummer Jamie Muhoberac's pulse creates a compelling landscape, even as its development is gently nuanced and its ambience soft and subliminal.

There are plenty of artists moving music forward in various ways; few, however, have created as complete a sound world, as integrated a musical conception so instantly recognizable—regardless of its participants—as Hassell. Still, while music would indisputably be a very different place without Hassell's fearless innovation, the profoundly moving Last night the moon came would equally be a very different experience without the contributions of, in particular, Freeman, Aarset, Bang and M'Kachiche. Otherworldly while, at the same time, affecting on a near-Jungian level of collective unconsciousness, Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street is an album that, along with ECM's recent Touchstone Series reissue of Power Spot, clarifies and justifies Hassell's unequivocal importance in the history of contemporary music.

Tracks: Aurora; Time and Place; Abu Gil; Last Night the Moon Came; Clairvoyance; Courtrais; Scintilla; Northline; Blue Period; Light on Water.

Personnel: Jon Hassell: trumpet (1-4, 6, 8-10), keyboard (3, 6); Peter Freeman: bass (1-6, 8-10), percussion (2), guitar (7), samples (9); Jan Bang: live sampling; Rick Cox: guitar (1, 2, 4, 7, 9), strings (4); Jamie Muhoberac: keyboard (1, 2, 4, 9), drums (4, 9); Kheir Eddine M'Kacich: violin (2-5, 7); Pete Lockett: drums (2); Eivind Aarset: guitar (3, 8-10); Helge Norbakken: drums (3, 8, 10); Thomas Newman: strings (4); Dino J. A. Deane: live sampling (6, 7); Steve Shehan: percussion (6, 9).

Track Listing:

Personnel: Musician Name #1: instrument; Musician Name #2: instrument; Musician Name #3: instrument.

Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: ECM Records | Style: Modern Jazz

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