RIP Jon Hassell

People talk about globalization as both a positive and a negative thing. Hassell’s work, like William Gibson’s later novels somehow embodies each aspect. Both artists create a feeling of dislocation: an example I use is that these days, when so many people use cell phones as their primary phones, you have no idea where anyone is calling from, despite their area code displaying itself to you.

What prevents his non-specific ambience from drifting off into the ether is a solid grounding in his American roots.

“Memphis was in retrospect an extremely powerful influence on me. The atmosphere of it being a kind of musical crossroads. I have joked that I do country music—the question is what country.”

Hassell described his music as Fourth World, an imaginary place that incorporated elements of all the other worlds. He melded not just spatial influences but temporal elements as well; past and future are inexorably entwined in his art. Ancient sounds of the desert rub against digitized textures and beats created by the latest software.

“I resist the cliché of groove, because it is such an easy thing to do, a default position for anything that relates to jazz or funk. I want to do something that is different, either by subtraction or alteration. You can press a button and buy a groove.”

The quotes here are from when I interviewed Jon for an article that was never published in a magazine that no longer exists. He was affable and forthcoming, but insisted I not mention his age. Fair enough, as his music was placeless, and timeless, the man himself was ageless.

As with so much other music, I entered his world through his guitarists, at various times Rick Cox and Eivind Aarset. In his world the guitar became a sound generating tool, devoid of all the clichés it has accrued over the years. Cox and Aarset filtered their sound through hardware and software to where it became indistinguishable as a stringed instrument inside the mysterious murk of Hassell’s music.

“Why should we think of music as having to be all hi-fi all the time, the low-fi compliments and shows off the hi-fi. Manfred Eicher at ECM gets it. He is not locked into the old ECM pristine sound. Like anybody with an active sensibility he is always trying to reinvent.”

Hassell too was always trying to reinvent and that is as much a part of his legacy as his more direct sonic influence on a generation of trumpet players like Paolo Fresu, Nils Petter Molvær, and Arve Henriksen.

“I’m quite happy to see that I’ve sprinkled a few sounds around and people are making their own gardens out of them.”




2 thoughts on “RIP Jon Hassell

  1. This one hurts a lot. Much like Holdsworth, Jon Hassell’s departure from the material plane will leave a noticeable void in the landscape. My introduction to his music came from my love of Brian Eno’s music. And when Possible musics came out in 1980 I was completely knocked out. Despite already being familiar with some of Eno’s Ambient textures, this album took the idea to another level. Open ears were rewarded with teleportation to another place and time, past/future, real/imagined, it doesn’t matter. What mattered was that his music took you there and immersed you fully. He had the power to create those places and show them to you. I can’t think of another musician/composer who has been able to do that for me so consistently and vividly. RIP Jon Hassell.

  2. I remember listening to Jon Hassell’s album ‘Power Spot’ and being completely blown away by the overall sound, the texture and his amazing trumpet sound. Unlike anything I have ever heard…. I would imagine it was the same when a listener heard the first Jimi Hendrix Experience album. A completely new sonic world. Jon Hassell made music that was unique and really transcended any label or genre. His music and vision will be sorely missed. RIP Jon Hassell.

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