Jon Hassell, dreamer of possible musics and creator of the Fourth World, alchemises ‘Listening To Pictures’; his first album in nine years, and a gorgeous reminder of his prescient, visionary brilliance which has influenced everyone from 0PN to Jamal Moss
Clad in absorbing artwork by the legendary Mati Klarwein (the artist behind classic sleeves for Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and Hassell’s first three solo LPs), you instantly kinda know that Listening To Pictures is going to be special, and the music certainly doesn’t disappoint. It’s effectively nine years worth of thoughts, feelings and memories since Last Night The Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes In The Street [ECM, 2009] recollected and distilled into a sound that feels nostalgic but uncannily contemporary.
Fringed by a crack squad of mutual dreamers including the trio of Rick Cox, John von Seggern and Hugh Marsh on most tracks, and also the likes of Ralph Cumbers (Bass Clef) and Michel Redolfi (INA-GRM) - plus some uncredited, but hinted-at involvement by Brian Eno - the album takes shape as an exercise in ‘pentimento’, or “the reappearance in a painting of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed or painted over.” In relation to the music, that term metaphorically applies to the process whereby early motifs, gestures and ideas continue to resurface in the sound image, if only fleetingly or warped in the music’s etheric weft, embroidering coolly delirious texturhythms and harmolodic patterns for the ear to get utterly wrapped up in.
For anyone new to Hassell’s music, the juxtapositions of scale, pattern and dreamlike spaces will surely recall the style of Oneohtrix Point Never. But with the benefit of hindsight and the sounds of Listening To Pictures, Hassell makes 0PN sound like he considers U.S.A. as a Fourth World unto itself, ripe with mongrel potential. From the inception of opener, Dreaming, with its digitally crinkled nods to jazz and Germanic kosmiche, thru the relatively shorter vignettes of polymetric percussion and balmy harmony in Slipstream, and the gently roiling tension of Al-Kongo Udu, and thru to the underwater jazz of Pastorale Vassant to the weightless, glitching stepper Ndeya, Hassell and his ensemble excel in catching a music in flux, perpetually in transition, yet without ever disclosing the location or final destination, keeping our attention (de)focussed to the parts of the journey others miss out, or choose not to focus on.
As the first volume of the Pentimento series for Ndeya, a sub-label of Warp, we can hardly imagine a more teasing introduction, and can’t wait to see where Hassell takes us in the future.