Jon Hassell’s Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume 1)

Reviewed by John Payne

One perhaps unusual compliment we ought to pay to Jon Hassell’s and his new Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume 1) is that, like all of his music, one grows impatient having to write about it while listening to it. This music — which I want to never end when I put it on — is too seductive to be looking at a computer screen while trying to come to terms with its intriguing charms.

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The veteran composer-trumpeter-theorist Jon Hassell is the great creator of connections. He’s an artist with uncommon intuitions about how music, visual art, language, history, food, scents, “culture,” the body, the brain and just about everything else forming our beliefs about human nature can be viewed as individual threads in a single, very large fabric, and how that fabric might be endlessly rewoven. Hassell has called what he does “Fourth World,” a way of music that crossbreeds rhythmic and tonal wisdom from the ancient world with the very latest in digital technology, along with evolved conceptions of form, texture and harmony; his music is both composed and improvised, reconciles Eastern and Western, and increasingly Northern and Southern. Fourth World music and methodology have been hugely inspirational, to put it politely, among the hungry hordes of electronic, New Age and world-music artists of the last 20 or so years, owing primarily to the widespread influence of Hassell’s collaborations with Brian Eno, Bjork, Peter Gabriel and other luminaries of the “progressive” rock/pop mold.

Always in search of new ways to further mutate his music away from its roots in jazz and contemporary classical or “new music” aesthetics and ideologies, Hassell recently found a fresh trigger for creative expansion when he happened upon the art term pentamento, roughly defined as a visible trace of earlier painting beneath a layer or layers of paint on a canvas. He kept this idea in mind when for Listening to Pictures he compiled and transmogrified via digital manipulation, added instrumental parts and lots of editing (wiping away, smearing in the process) several years’ worth of tracks in his database — much like a painter, but more like a musician.

Read Payne’s full review at Riot Material magazine:

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