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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 profoundly adventurous work. Typically, 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 and digging as deeply 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 ahead of the curve 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 The "exotic" cultural focus of the early albums has been replaced by a more syncretic approach in which the idea of "otherness" has become irrelevant.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." The term, borrowed from art scholarship, means that fragments of found sounds or previous performances are sampled and manipulated into new contexts and 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.

"I started seeing (or was that hearing?) the music we were working on in the studio in terms of that definition," says Hassell in his liner notes. "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 38 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 treasures.

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

Personnel: 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).

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

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