At age 81 legendary American trumpeter/composer/conceptualist Jon Hassell could reasonably be kicking back in retirement, relaxing and resting on his considerable laurels. His Fourth World concept, combining world ethnic music with modern electronics, has been hugely influential; it is hard to imagine the sound of Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen without it, not to mention a lot of music in both the ambient and World Music genres. He has collaborated with Brian Eno, Talking Heads, David Sylvian and Peter Gabriel among others.
The good news is that Hassell is back with his first new album in nine years, as well as the first on his own label, Ndeya (pronounced "in-day-ya"). Pentimento is a reference to visual art, an Italian term describing the reappearance of earlier images that have been changed and painted over. Hassell has always made use of electronic manipulation in his music, but he raises it to further heights here, taking performance fragments and sampling, looping and overdubbing them into new forms. Hassell gives a lot of credit to his collaborators, Rick Cox, John Von Seegern and Hugh Marsh, but there is no attempt to list their specific contributions to each track, not even what instruments they played! Perhaps it is just as well, as it would be next to impossible to sort out who plays what, between the electronic manipulation of the sounds and the frequently dense audio textures.
The major exception to that rule would be Hassell's distinctive reedy trumpet, and longtime fans will be pleased to hear that it is very much in evidence. On the opener, "Dreaming," it emerges out of a dense, slowly pulsing electronic soundscape like an old friend. "Picnic" stands out for its use of rhythmic sequencer, while "Slipstream" has the classic Hassell sound of trumpet solo over a bed of synthesizers (even though the production techniques used to create the track were likely very different). "Pastorale Vassant" has a distinctive off-kilter groove, and no obvious trumpet sounds until the chorus of them sounding the final chord. "Manga Scene" has a lyrical trumpet introduction; nice to hear the trumpet taking the lead. The final tune "Ndeya" has the same name as the label. In addition to more trumpet riding on top of layered electronics, it includes violin phrases from Hugh Marsh in the mix, sometimes in dialog with the trumpet (this is about the only sound on the album other than Hassell's trumpet that can be assigned to a particular musician). It's a fresh sound in an album that sounds both familiar and new at the same time.
Dreaming; Picnic; Slipstream; Al Kongo Udu; Pastorale Vassant; Manga Scene; Her First Rain; Ndeya.
Jon Hassell: trumpet, keyboards, orchestration; Rick Cox: guitar, OP-1 synth, electronics; John von Seggern: bass, drums, electronics; Hugh Marsh: electric violin, electronics; Peter Freeman: bass, electronics (2, 3, 7); Ralph Cumbers: kongo drum programming (2); Eivind Aarset: electric guitar, sampler (8); Kheir-Eddine M'Kachiche: violin, sampler (8); Christoph Harbonnier: bass (3); Christian Jacob: bass (3); Michel Redolphi: electronics (3).
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