Jon Hassell – Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume One)

hassellEarlier Jon Hassell recordings feature his distinctive trumpet style front and centre. It is what made him such a significant member of a small, extraordinary group of early ambient music composers made famous (in part) by their association with Brian Eno. Hassell’s horn was a thing apart though. Paired with rich percussion, those first few records were as distinctive as they were enjoyable.

This new disc – his first in nine years – is as much an electronic work as anything. If his intention was to add variety to an already impressive catalogue, mission accomplished.

Regardless of motivation though, Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume One) is a fresh-sounding step forward for the 81-year-old.

“Al Kongo Udu” is a gorgeous example. It opens in conventional Hassell style. The percussion line is reminiscent of multiple previous efforts. But then it begins to morph into a more fully electronic set of beats. It’s as though he’s turning a giant dial from a 1995 setting to 20-something. This isn’t just an update, it’s a successful effort to present the Hassell form in a more progressive context.

“Pastorale Vassant” is next. Its clipped drum track feels like an advanced version of trap. The electronics behind it are too detailed to be ambient. It demands an active listen.

Hassell takes that forward-looking beat-electronics combo and pushes it further still on “Manga Scene.” His horn smoothens what would otherwise be a challenging piece. Still, it’s clear Hassell has moved in a brave new direction.

Those of us who’d given up hope of a new Hassell release were predisposed to greet the launch of this new series of recordings with open arms. He’s asking for open ears too. This is a more modern, more experimental effort than previous titles. One that may well earn him a new generation of admirers.

Kevin Press

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