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Jon Hassell - City: Works of Fiction

  by Jon Rogers

published: 9 / 8 / 2014

Jon Hassell - City: Works of Fiction
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Jon Rogers reflects on avant-garde composer and trumpeter Jon Hassell's 1990 recording 'City: Works of Fiction', which has just been reissued in a three CD box set

The US trumpeter and composer Jon Hassell is something of the neglected man of the avant-garde. A name that gets rather overlooked by the musicologists in their histories of twentieth century music. The 77-year-old, however, has rather impeccable credentials. He studied under Karlheinz Stockhausen for two years in his Cologne Course for New Music - where Can's Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt were his classmates. After returning to the USA in 1967 he met up with Terry Riley and was part of the original ensemble that performed Riley's groundbreaking piece 'In C' the following year. Through Riley he became involved with minimalist composer La Monte Young and became involved in his Theatre of Eternal Music. This in turn led to him developing an interest in world music, in particular Asian and African music and went off to study in India, along with Riley, Young and Young's wife Marian Zazeela, under singer Pandit Pran Nath at the Kirana Centre for Indian Classical Music. This interest led to Hassell developing what he dubbed 'Fourth World' music. This was an apparently contradictory amalgam of minimalism, jazz (mainly Miles Davis) traditional Asian and African styling - all filtered through very modern state-of-the-art studio gadgetry where the sound of his trumpet would be altered using delays and pitch-shift effects. Hassell would describe his styling as "a unified primitive/futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques." Along the way time was found to collaborate with Brian Eno, who added an ambient aspect to the overall stylings. And, despite an initial falling out between the two (which was relatively quickly sorted out), the pair remained long-term collaborators with even Hassell being godfather to Eno's youngest daughters. Later works would see Hassell expand and enlarge his 'Fourth World' concept, taking in more Westernised notions of composition which led to his involvement - to a lesser or greater extent - with a number of artists including Talking Heads, David Sylvian, Michael Brook and Peter Gabriel, not to mention Tears for Fears. 'City: Works of Fiction', originally released in 1990, takes off, in effect, from previous albums 'Power Spot' in 1986 and 'The Surgeon of the Nightsky Restores Dead Things by the Power of Sound' the following year.It is probably no coincidence that both albums contain the word 'power' in their titles and, after all, a country's power base - albeit economic, judicial or political - is concentrated in its urban centres. 'City' - now given the deluxe treatment with two extra discs of material - reflects the urban - and even urbane - landscape with the compositions heavily layered with textures and dense, repetitive rhythms that build up distorted raga trumpets and heavily manipulated electronic percussion that capture the feel of a modern city full of noise, bustle and distractions. Overall, the listener gets the sense of travelling through an urban landscape, wherever it maybe in the world. Seemingly disparate phrases collide together, coalesce and unite then break apart over an apparent repetitive, evolving percussive beat. Over the din, trumpet calls sporadically break out, echoing the sound of car horns. 'City' is an album - at least the original LP - that really has to be listened to in its entirety, so it's pointless as a critic trying to pick out highlights when it is clearly an album to create an overall impression rather than the typical pop album format of a collection of songs (both hits and filler) merely recorded in a certain time frame. This idea will no doubt confuse and dismay an audience nowadays brought up on the idea of playlists and iTunes. As with any 'deluxe' reissue this new edition of the album comes with a plethora of bonus material. The second disc is a live recording during The Living City event, curated by Eno, at the Wintergarden in September 1989. which sees the musicians in sparkling form and pieces like 'Alchemistry' and the closing 'Nightsky' are given a renewed sense of vitality and urgency. It is, however, the final disc - entitled 'Psychogeography: Zones of Feeling' - that is of most interest. It is, effectively, Hassell's first new material released since 2009's 'Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street'. In reality it is a pick and mix bag of studio outtakes, remixes, including an 808 State take on 'Brigantes' and a whole bunch of odds and ends that take the original 'City' concept and are dusted down and polished to produce a modern-day, 21st century sheen. Admittedly, it does not always hold together and, obviously, with any collection like this it does not create a unified whole. Still, the third disc provides some fascinating insights and is well worth it. Now would seem a good a time as any for a reassessment of Hassell's work as much of his earlier recordings have long been out of print. 'City' though proves to be a worthy place to start as any.

Track Listing:-

Picture Gallery:-
Jon Hassell - City: Works of Fiction

Jon Hassell - City: Works of Fiction

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