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Jon Hassell: Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume one)

Chris May By

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By the time even the most revolutionary musicians reach their ninth decade, few are any longer making edgy work. All too often, conservatism has kicked in or, if not that, a younger generation has come along and moved the goal posts. But on Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume One), Jon Hassell, the creator of fourth-world music in the 1970s and other innovations since, is as venturesome as ever.

Listening To Pictures is Hassell's first new release since Last Night The Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes In The Street (ECM, 2009). It is as out there as anything he has previously recorded, including Vernal Equinox (Lovely, 1978), on which he unveiled fourth-world music, or Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics (Editions EG, 1980) and Dream Theory In Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two (Editions EG, 1981), on which he gave the movement a name (and yes, it was Hassell who came up with the term, not his Editions EG collaborator, Brian Eno).

Much has changed in Hassell's music in the last four decades. The "exotic" cultural focus of the early albums has been replaced by a more syncretic approach in which the idea of "otherness" has become irrelevant. Above all, advances in recording technology have enabled more sophisticated sonics. Hassell calls the process behind the creation of his new album "pentimento." Fragments of performance are sampled and manipulated into startlingly unexpected forms. Shape-shifting is what Hassell has always done, of course, but on Listening To Pictures he has taken the practice to a new level.

"Pentimento [an Italian word which literally means 'repentance'] is the reappearance in a painting of earlier images, forms or strokes that have been changed and used as elements in a final composition," Hassell says in his sleeve note. "I started seeing (or was that hearing?) the music we were working on in the studio in terms of that definition. Seeing it in terms of a painting with layers and touch-ups and start-overs with new layers that get erased in places that let the underlying pattern come to the top and be seen (or heard)." The "we" in that statement refers to Hassell's collaborators Rick Cox, Jon Von Seegem and Hugh Marsh. "They are all gifted musical alchemists," Hassell says, "whose contributions are so intricately interwoven into the textures that mention of their instrument only hints at the extent of their actual presence at any moment in the music."

Listening To Pictures is 40 minutes of nuanced, shimmering impressionism, understated yet—if it rings your bell—intensely powerful. Its release marks the launch of Hassell's own label, Ndeya. This will be a platform for new work as well as selected archival releases, including reissues and first editions of previously unreleased music. Expect more surprises.

Track Listing: Dreaming; Picnic; Slipstream; Al Kongo Udu; Pastorale Vassant; Manga Scene; Her First Rain; Ndeya.

Personnel: Jon Hassell: trumpet, keyboards, synthesisers, percussion, voice, programming; Rick Cox: additional instruments (not specified); Jon Von Seegern: additional instruments (not specified); Hugh Marsh: additional instruments (not specified).

Title: Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume one) | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Ndeya

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