Jon Hassell: Power Spot (ECM 1327)

Jon Hassell
Power Spot

Jon Hassell trumpet
J. A. Deane percussion, alto flute
Jean-Philippe Rykiel keyboards
Michael Brook guitar
Richard Horowitz keyboards
Brian Eno bass
Richard and Paul Armin RAAD electro-acoustic strings
Miguel Frasconi flute
Recorded October 1983 and December 1984, Grant Avenue Studio, Ontario
Assistant  engineering: David Bottrill and Roman Zack
Produced and engineered by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois

American composer and trumpeter Jon Hassell is best known for his music of the Fourth World, which he describes as “coffee-colored classical.” The definition becomes clearer once you immerse yourself in the sounds of Power Spot. Hassell’s career is as varied as his education. A student of both Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pandit Pran Nath, he is known for overlooking idiomatic barriers in favor of something far broader. Nath left an indelible mark in Hassell, who turned to the master’s voice for guidance in his own playing. His unmistakable tones are achieved by singing into the instrument, thereby drawing clusters of sounds from a single exhalation. This recording is significant for a number of reasons, not least for indicating a moment in sonic history in which the electro-acoustic universe was beginning to spin some of its richer, more majestic galaxies. The music on Power Spot radiates like a supernova waiting patiently for the traction of celestial bodies to fan its clouds away, revealing softly spinning globes of breath and vapor. With such evocative titles as “Wing Melodies” and “The Elephant And The Orchid,” one feels almost overwhelmed by the range of possible imagery. And yet, like any question of mode or genre thereof, these words disappear behind the music’s waterfall.

At first listen the album may seem to blend into a broad wash of sound, but lean in closer and you begin to hear the details emerge. The title track is perhaps the most potent, opening this portal to a wellspring of beats and train whistles. Brian Eno’s amphibian bass slithers through a pond of liquid mercury, fading into the gaseous darkness from which it sprang. Otherworldly connotations are bound to reveal themselves, and nowhere more so than in “Passage D.E.,” which sounds for all like the soundtrack to a documentary of some undiscovered planet. Notable also is “Miracle Steps,” where live percussion provides marked contrast to the synthetic overlay, drawing in the process the album’s most beautiful cartography.

Power Spot is one protracted aerial view, a bubbling primordial soup of circuits and blips, funneled through such progressive sense of direction and atmosphere as only Hassell can activate. Unlike much of the knob-turning to grace the many electronic albums of the 80s, its sound is strikingly effusive and organic. In this ocean, one finds that the light of life shines brightest on the inside. It is a light that no clouds can obscure, a light that no darkness can close its eyes around. It is a journey of transience, of transport, of futurism and antiquity, of none of these things. Influential? More than words can say. Just listen to Paul Schütze’s Stateless, or the works of countless others who’ve clearly drunk from the Hassell font.

A perfect specimen.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s