Music without borders
Along with Miles Davis, Jon Hassell has one of the most unique and immediately identifiable trumpet sounds ever, whose distinctive style and approach to the instrument really does prove that sometimes less is more. His almost subatomic, otherworldly arrangements seemed to come from either a science laboratory or outer space. If Rothko were a musician, he might probably have sounded a lot like Hassell.
When asked by critics how to explain his music, he would often describe it as “Fourth World,” an organic fusion of cultures both old and new, where the tribal tropics intermixed with the colder, and perhaps less exotic Northern Hemisphere. Yet for all his fascination with ancient sound, technology remained the key to Hassell’s inimitable approach, a technique which has led him to record with a diverse range of artists such as Brian Eno, David Sylvian, David Byrne, and Peter Garbriel, each of whom could hardly be considered as exactly mainstream, in spite of their relative pop-rock credentials.
Beginning with the title track, above ethnic beats Hassell appears then disappears like a ghost haunting the Malayan mountains. And like Miles Davis’ Pangea album, there seems to be no true beginning and no real end. The sensually hypnotic “Passage D.E.” is another exercise in ancestral rhythms straight out of National Geographic, before weaving his watery trumpet throughout a largely ambient and alien landscape on “Solaire.”
“Miracle Steps” simply oozes ‘80s, with its treated synths and high-tech production, the sort of incidental music better suited to such futuristic movies as Tron or Saturn 3. Hassell’s woozy trumpet dominates the appropriately titled “Wing Melodies,” during which one almost feels as though they may be coming down with an inner ear infection, followed by “The Elephant And The Orchid,” another nauseating number that will probably make the listener wish that they’d taken a Zantac well before they put the album on.
Fortunately the listener’s stomach has a chance to settle on the ambient pro-biotic “Air,” a delightful, atmospheric piece, that immediately invokes images of digital birds nesting in digital trees, before flying on the digital breeze. Like nature reproduced through a binary code of expression.
Listening to Power Spot is akin to immersing oneself in a warm bath, after perhaps a few glasses of wine, then trying not to vomit while meditating simultaneously. The first half of the record is nothing less than fascinating of course, and the most innovative. The second side however, is up for the listener to decide.
Produced by Eno and Daniel Lanois, Jon Hassell’s 1986 Power Spot is a lithe, surprisingly penetrating album by one of music’s most creative thinkers, whose craft practically defies all genres and stereotypes. Fourth World music indeed.