Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jon Hassell

  • Dream Theory in Malaya [Editions EG, 1981] B
  • Aka/Darbari/Java [Editions EG, 1983] B+
  • Power Spot [ECM, 1986] A-
  • The Surgeon of the Nightsky Restores Dead Things by the Power of Sound [Intuition/Capitol, 1987] B+
  • City: Works of Fiction [Opal/Warner Bros., 1990] Neither
  • Fascinoma [Water Lily Acoustics, 1999] Neither
  • Maarifa Street [Nyen, 2005] ***
  • Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street [ECM, 2009] **
  • Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume 1) [Ndeya, 2018] A-

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Dream Theory in Malaya [Editions EG, 1981]
"Fourth world music: classical by structure, popular by textural appeal, global-minded," explain the notes. The goal is worthy enough, the result basically friendly and weird, just like the year's Eno collaboration. But with Eno ancillary, the textural appeal is artier than necessary, from the muted trumpet stutter of the irritating opening cut to the sequenced fieldtape fragment of the centerpiece to the dust on the needle that conquers all before the finale is finalized. B

Aka/Darbari/Java [Editions EG, 1983]
With much help from Senegalese drummer Abdou Mboup, Hassell fabricates ambient groove music. The rhythms lull rather than motivate, their goal contemplation rather than unconsciousness. On Fourth World Vol. 1, the goal was more like transcendence. B+

Power Spot [ECM, 1986]
With the same drummer and keyb man on all seven cuts, this is the composer-trumpeter's strongest and harshest music to date. The trio is basically a rhythm band (keybs play "facsimile bass, percussion, strings, etc."); more than ever, Hassell is a colorist rather than a melodist (much less a soloist). If there's a problem it's that the music's ambient anonymity is compromised by its astringency. But us city folk are so steeped in the shit that we take pleasure in putting background dissonance under quiet control. A-

The Surgeon of the Nightsky Restores Dead Things by the Power of Sound [Intuition/Capitol, 1987]
Minimalist trumpeter discovers keyboard textures while abandoning quasi-traditionalist surface, just like Miles Davis before him. But though it's also true that both men have done their schlockiest work while tickling the microchips, Hassell's impulses are so esoteric that a little schlock becomes them. I doubt he'll ever equal his first Eno project, and Power Spot is tougher. But if you're looking for ambient music that eschews new age sweetener, this'll calm your nerves real nice. B+

City: Works of Fiction [Opal/Warner Bros., 1990] Neither

Fascinoma [Water Lily Acoustics, 1999] Neither

Maarifa Street [Nyen, 2005]
"Improved" world-ambient trumpet concerts that "migrate" layers between shows and even from older studio to newer live ("Darfari Bridge," "New Gods"). ***

Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street [ECM, 2009]
Being the moon and only wearing a few veils anyway, it did this very, very quietly ("Abu Gil," "Courtrais"). **

Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume 1) [Ndeya, 2018]
Always warm not chill, Hassell's quiet, environmental "fourth world" music has staying power that enlarges with time--listening back, I hear more complexity and groove in 2005's patched-together Maarifa Street than I did at the time. But ever since his fateful 1980 collaboration with Brian Eno, atmospheric gestalt rather than flesh-and-blood pulse has been his calling. Like Miles Davis in his lost-and-found '70s, Hassell has long raised keyboards to parity with a trumpet that never aspires to the clarity and speed of masters from Armstrong to Marsalis. At 81, he's explored that parity for half his life, seldom more calmingly than on this self-release. Ever the avant-gardist, he insists that his latest music has a synesthetic relationship to the paintings of his dear friend Mati Klarwein. But we don't have to go there. If you're merely seeking something to soothe and engage simultaneously, this will perform that anxiety-easing, life-enhancing, aesthetically self-sufficient trick even better than usual. A-