29.06.2021 | Artist

Jon Hassell 1937-2021

Jon Hassell, innovative trumpeter, genre-spanning improviser and pan-cultural musical philosopher, has died aged 84.

His legacy lives on in the playing of the many artists he influenced – the long line of trumpeters touched by his liquid, singing tone on his horn, and the much broader cast of players whose approach to synthesis was given impetus by Hassell’s elegant experiments beneath the umbrella of his Fourth World musical concept.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1937, Hassell studied electronic music with Stockhausen in Cologne and, on returning to the US, became part of the circle around La Monte Young, which also included Terry Riley. Hassell’s recording debut was on Riley’s minimalistic monolith In C. Through La Monte Young, Hassell also met Pandit Pran Nath, the Indian classical singer whose approach to the unfolding of melody in raga would have a major impact on his own work. As he juxtaposed raga-inspired lines on trumpet with some of the drive and groove he loved in Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew and On The Corner, Hassell began to glimpse new artistic horizons. Miles’s music, he said “extended the vocabulary” of his imagination. “I could dream and fantasize as I couldn’t before.” A generation of players would later feel that way about Hasssell, whose work opens new windows, new angles of vision, onto the music of the world, as motifs, fragments of sound from everywhere, drift past like clouds.
Jon Hassell’s ECM albums are Power Spot, recorded in 1983 and 1984, whose electronically-enhanced dreamscapes still feel highly contemporary, and Last night the moon came, dropping its clothes in the street (2008). The latter album, with its title borrowed from Jalaluddin Rumi, reflects Hassell’s interest in a cinematic approach to music-making with an emphasis on montage and collage of sound-images, and a filmic, atmospheric sense of flow.
Some of Hassell’s finest playing can be heard on the Jon Balke/Amina Alaoui project Siwan (2007/8), where his trumpet floats over the massed sounds of baroque strings, lute, harpsichord and hand drums and enters into exchanges with subtly powerful violinist Kheir Eddine M’Kachiche in a re-imagining of the era of Al-Andalus. Jon Hassell is a guest soloist here, but the blueprint for the project, as a journey through time and across continents, is very much in the respectfully creative transcultural tradition which he helped to initiate.

photo by Jenafer Gillingham

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