Visionary trumpeter-composer Jon Hassell is one of the architects of what has come to be called World Music: his own preferred term is Fourth World, which he described as "a unified primitive/futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques." Vernal Equinox was his first commercial album release, originally on Lovely Music in 1977. The second release on Hassell's own Ndeya labelfollowing the 2018 Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume One)this reissue makes the album available on vinyl for the first time in 42 years, and on CD for the first time in 30 years. It has been completely remastered, but there is no additional material.
"Toucan Ocean" begins the set; after an introduction of electric piano, congas and ocean sounds Hassell's distinctive reedy trumpet tone makes its first appearance on record, along with electronic treatments, another common component of his sound. Hassell has a group of players helping out, primarily on percussion; Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos (who appears on all but one of the tracks) is the best known, a virtuoso whose credits include pioneering World Music, jazz, Braziialian and pop recordings. New Music composer David Rosenboom contributes percussion and synthesizer processing on a few tracks. Several other players from the New Music world also appear.
"Viva Shona" features Rosenboom's mbira (a traditional Shona "thumb piano") along with Vasconçelos on talking drum, giving it an African atmosphere. "Blues Nile" is the most minimal track, with only drone and trumpet. In general, the sound is just a bit less polished than the later recordings; Hassell was constantly refining his approach and broadening his circle of collaborators. His breakout collaboration with Brian EnoFourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics (Editions EG, 1980)came just three years later.
But the title tune (which, at 22 minutes, was long enough to take up most of the second side of the original LP) has the sense of space and the patient pacing that came to be a trademark. Hassell spins out serpentine lines over a thick, shifting drone as the two percussionists accompany, sometimes rubato, sometimes locking into a steady rhythm. More minimal than his later soundscapes, but no less hypnotic, easily recommended to Hassell fans or fans of ambient music generally, this is one of the places where it began.
Toucan Ocean; Viva Shona; Hex; Blues Nile; Vernal Equinox; Caracas Night September 11, 1975.
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