By the time even the most radical musicians reach their ninth decade, few are any longer making cutting-edge work. But trumpeter, electronicist and composer Jon Hassell, a collaborator with Terry Riley and La Monte Young in the 1960s and the creator of Fourth World music in the 1970s, remains as venturesome as ever.
Much of Seeing Through Sound: Pentimento Volume Two was recorded during the sessions for Hassell's lustrous Listening To Pictures: Pentimento Volume One (Ndeya, 2018). The new album is a development of the earlier release, with the ambiance at times roughed up and distressed. The two discs sit comfortably side by side like yin and yang. Both are on a level with earlier Hassell landmarks such as Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics (Editions EG, 1980), Dream Theory In Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two (Editions EG, 1981) and Last Night The Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes In The Street (ECM, 2009).
Unless you are an art scholar, the chances are that "pentimento" is an unfamiliar word. It means the reappearance in a painting, through the scraping off a layer of paint or through x-ray investigation, of earlier images or brush strokes that were changed or painted over by the artist. Hassell uses the term to apply to audio, visual and temporal dimensions, to describe the making of music in pictures and pictures in music, the old becoming the new and the new acquiring a patina of age. Shape-shifting, time-travel and transformatism are what Hassell has always done, but on the two Pentimento albums advances in technology have enabled greater nuance and sophistication.
Hassell says that the realisation he was engaged in pentimento had come to him while recording Listening To Pictures. "I was doing a lot of manipulation of sounds," says Hassell. "When I'm in the studio and using 24 tracks, and using the software that's available these days, there is this gigantic library of sounds. That's really where the idea of pentimento caught fire in my imagination. I thought, what else is 24-track recording except pentimento? Layers are scratched off and other layers show throughor you can have a temporal pentimento à la Natalie Cole and Nat King Cole, like when Natalie sang a virtual duet with her late father on 'Unforgettable.'"
Welcome to the multi-dimensional universe of Jon Hassell, where a picture sounds like music and music looks like a picture. Take one step beyond and bask in the beauty.
Fearless; Moons Of Titan; Unknown Wish: Delicado; Reykjavik; Cool Down Coda; Lunar; Timeless.
Peter Freeman: bass, electronics; Ralph Cumbers: kongo drum programming; Eivind Aarset: electric guitar, sampling; Kheir-Eddine M’Kachiche: violin, sampler; Christoph Harbonnier: bass; Michel Redolfi: electronics.