Maarifa Street reviews
Amazon.com (Editorial review)
"In an era of world fusions and unlikely global collaborations, Jon Hassell continues reformulating the alchemy of his Fourth World music in fascinating and original ways. Maarifa Street is his first electric album in some time, and it's a deliriously seductive brew of Miles Davis-meets-dub stuttered through sampled groove fractures. Drawn from live recordings made over the last few years, the album illustrates Hassell's gift for carving soundscapes in real time, laying his breathy, harmonized trumpet lines across an interior panorama of ambient voodoo jazz. Playing mostly with guitar mutant Rick Cox over deep dub bass lines from Peter Freeman, Hassell's music is fractal in its constant reinvention. The deeper you go, the more varied it becomes, as self-similar patterns are spun and shaped into ever more complex designs. Tunisian singer Dhafer Youssef adds his desert cries to Hassell's verdant mix on tracks like "Divine S.O.S." and "Open Secret." Although Maarifa Street's source material is live, the sound is studio-designed, with performances mixed, matched, and collaged in a fashion not unlike the cover by Abdul Mati Klarwein (who did Santana's Abraxas and Miles Davis's Bitches Brew). With an extreme stereo mix, instruments appear, shift, morph, and swirl, as if on a slo-mo carousel plopped into a global bazaar of the imagination. The subtitle of the album is Magic Realism 2, marking it as a sequel to Aka-Darbari-Java, Hassell's 1983 album of mosaic-like designs. But Maarifa Street is easier to grab onto, and the throbbing bass, programmed pulse fragments, and his innately melodic trumpet carry you through this strange world." John Diliberto
"This Memphis-born trumpeter has traced a singular path over the last four decades. A student of both Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pandit Pran Nath, Jon Hassell played on the first version of Terry Riley's In C and LaMonte Young's Dream House 78'17". Since releasing his debut as leader in 1977 he's worked with Talking Heads, Brian Eno, David Sylvian and David Toop among a host of others.
The journey to Maarifa Street from its predecessor Fascinoma has taken six years: an appreciable interval in which the likes of Nils Molvaer, Arve Henriksen and Erik Truffaz have forged solo careers influenced to varying degrees both by Hassell's ideas and playing style. Two years before Fascinoma, The Vertical Collection presented eleven tracks made up entirely of samples of Hassell's back-catalogue reconfigured, with the trumpeter's approval, by Peter Freeman who supplies bass and programming on Maarifa Street. The outcome was comparable to the shuffling of a Tarot deck: same cards, different outcomes. Although the approach potentially signalled a new level of introspection, a fascination for the sampling of resonant external sources was already woven into the DNA of Hassell's oeuvre, in the call of night creatures on Vernal Equinox or the amalgam of pygmies, gamelan and exotic '50s orchestrations on Aka Darbari Java.
Maarifa Street (maarifa means knowledge or wisdom in Arabic) in part represents a further act of taking stock. Small elements of earlier pieces are intermittently deployed as semi-structural elements or tonal shading. Thus, the edgy rhythm of "The Gods, They Must Be Crazy" from 1994's Dressing For Pleasure intermittently cuts into "New Gods" while "Darbari Bridge" rearranges various elements from 1983's Aka Darbari Java. The impression made by this recursive approach is initially unsettling as the familiar elements attract attention away from their new setting. At the same time the core thrust of Maarifa Street at first proves elusive. It would be easy to listen superficially and conclude that this new work merely rehashes old ideas for want of inspiration. Attentive listening, however, reveals a much more subtle undertaking that gradually suffuses the mind like a mixture of scents both familiar and foreign, earthy and delicate. The insertion of motifs from previous recordings invites contemplation of the Zen Buddhist concept of the Eternal Now as well as questions about the motive force of innovation. These sonic keepsakes also tease playfully at the memory, forcing the listener up and out of the immediate moment into unexpected reminiscence. They also act as shared territory between past and present and serve to reinvigorate the earlier music. However, most of Maarifa Street is newly recorded music which conveys the impression of gossamer-like veils floating gradually to earth. These layers are flecked through with contemporary electronic sounds and occasionally Dhafer Youssef's heartfelt yell, which is firmly located in the middle distance.
Maarifa Street is the product of three concert performances and extensive studio reconfiguring that has resulted in a hybrid form more complex than its untreated parts might otherwise have offered up. Alongside the sonic and temporal weaving, Hassell also stirs in a number of references, primary among which is his dedication of the album to the late Mati Klarwein whose painting "Crucifixion" illustrates the sleeve. Touchingly, the field recording of sheep bells that rounds out "Open Secret (Paris)" was captured on a visit to the painter's Mallorca home. Combined with Youssef's oud playing this evokes images of a prelapsarian idyll. Hassell's own playing throughout is as rich and sensual as ever, his sound floating over and through the music like a gulf stream current or autumnal Saharan wind. The closing "Open Secret (Milano)" features a duet between Hassell and the Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu, whose open playing evokes the spirit of Miles Davis. The resulting music is at once eery and beautiful, backward and forward looking: a suitable conclusion to Jon Hassell's thirteenth album." © Colin Buttimer
One of the three CDs to listen to this month...
* * * * * Five Stars • Jon Hassell is an extraterrestrial in the jazz galaxy... Teeming with details, free as the wind blowing in the desert, this celestial jazz is amazing. Edgy but eminently accessible, Maarifa Street leads us to the peaks where the view gets lost in the distant horizon which this music embraces. An unbelievable invitation to meditation.
The New York Times
"Miles Davis and Jon Hassell are both trumpet players who have transcended the instrument's inherent limitations and now use it as flexibly, as expressively and as intimately as a great singer uses his voice. They are both visionary composers who use their knowledge of American traditions and the musics of the world to create vivid landscapes that seem to palpitate with a life of their own. They are both musicians with serious reputations who have nevertheless crossed the boundaries that separate 'art' and 'popular' music."
"Hassell has long been admired for his work with Brian Eno, the Peters Gabriel and Sellars and the Kronos Quartet...If there were any justice, Hassell's 10 majestic albums would already be broadcast on their own radio and cable stations 24 hours a day: they're the secret sound track of our public and private lives."
"Face it, it's all been said about Hassell before, but perhaps this, at least, is worth restating: Jon Hassell's ideas and techniques have so thoroughly permeated lo- and hi-brow contemporary electronic music, albeit often in a third or fourth hand way...that it's difficult to think what contemporary music would sound like without his influence. I repeat: there's categorically no doubt that Hassell has had as an important effect on contemporary music as Miles Davis or Jimi Hendrix or James Brown or the Velvet Underground."
"Jon Hassell is one of the world's most innovative musicians and one of today's most influential composers. His music has established a genre that goes beyond the notions of jazz, neo-classicism, new music or new age. Jon Hassell's concept of Fourth World Music transcends the so-called 'primitive' and the so-called 'futurist' by seamlessly uniting traditional rhythmic and melodic concepts with recombinant aesthetics made possible by the creations of high technology."
"...work of quite extraordinary beauty...This pan-cultural music swirls and rises like smoke...Hassell blends his experiences in such a way that the componentsAfrican drumming, Indian microtonality, Balinese tranquilitymake a new palette while forfeiting none of the individual colors."
"...Extraordinary, otherworldly music..."
Fascinoma Press Excerpts
Le Monde (France)
"For the first time Jon Hasselltheorist of the concept of Fourth World Music (the meeting between all musical cultures and electronics)has chosen, from the big book of jazz, a number of the pieces on this seductive album of ethereal ambiance where attention to the beauty of the instrumental timbre is so remarkably manifested...Sensual dream-like moments where time melts away as it does in the open space of a desert."
Die Zeit (Germany)
"Music-Oasis ...a painter in freestyle, in always-new musical relationships, ..Jon Hassell improvises as if breath were music...If Miles Davis were still aliveof this much the reviewer can be surehe would've have been damned jealous."
"One of the most influential artists of this 'fin de millennium'...more than a musician: this is a creator, one of the extremely rare visionaries of new music... For many, Jon Hassell and Miles Davis are the greatest trumpet players this planet has seen. Except that the sound of Miles is no longer so rare: hundreds of trumpet players have adopted it...When Jon plays he concentrates on the idea that he's blowing a conch shell
...the trumpet of Jon Hassell resembles no other. When you hear it for the first time, you're not entirely certain to recognize what instrument it is. You won't forget it."
* * * * * Five Stars • "Between 1980 and 1983, in his Fourth World trilogy...Jon Hassell brought the polyphonic songs of pygmy voices, Indian raga techniques, and virtual sound worlds together. In later albums a kind of ultra-sophisticated and urbane 'ambient music'... With his new CD, Fascinoma, the circle is closed: Jon Hassell returns to the simplicity of his very first album...Here he paints complete musical lines like a Zen-artist making a circle. And then suddenly the melodies open like magical blossoms following a special secret code...After Ibrahim Ferrer and Buena Vista Social Club, producer Ry Cooder has indeed captured a third musical pinnacle."
Jazz Magazine (France)
"The name of Jon Hassell probably doesn't resonate much in the ears of jazz-lovers. That's logical: Hassell is not, strictly speaking, a "jazz artist". He doesn't play, doesn't phrase, like a "jazz artist". And he hardly ever shows up in the company of "jazz artists"...How is it that he is able to make so much emotion happen in a phrase without even playing one note higher than another, all in a breathy whisper, making something that is half "word", half "note"...Rarely has an improviserand Hassell is definitely thatknown how to roam so mysteriously with his instrument, as if between some lost civilization and some ominous future...Yes, it so happens that when jazz doesn't necessarily look like "jazz" (ostentatious, scholarly=grounded) that jazz continues to live."
Les Inrockuptibles (France)
"The King of the Trumpet. A truly unusual album, beyond the prevailing fashions...Never, since Miles Davis, has a trumpeter gone so deeply into this way of controlling the breath...With 'Carvanesque', a free adaptation of Ellington's 'Caravan', the art of Jon Hassell takes on full dimension...To be sure, it has been thirty years since Jon Hassell began to study with an Indian vocal master, Pandit Pran Nath, but this time his technique has shown itself to be refined to such a degree that it comes as new surprise...a feeling of wanting it to go on forever arises..."