Jon Hassell Biography

1937, Memphis, Tennessee, USA. Hassell acquired several university degrees including a PhD in musicology, before travelling to Cologne, Germany in 1965 to study with Karlheinz Stockhausen. While in Cologne he met and played with Irmin Schmidt and Holgar Czukay, who later went on to form Can. The trumpeter and keyboard player returned to the USA in 1967 and began to play with leading minimalist composers La Monte Young and Terry Riley. As a performer Hassell appeared on Riley’s seminal minimalist piece In C, released in 1968 and La Monte Young’s extended drone cycle Dreamhouse. With Young’s influence Hassell became interested in Indian classical music and in 1972 he travelled to northern Indian to study Kirana tradition with master vocalist Pandit Pran Nath. From his studies Hassell created a new vocal style which he described as Fourth World - a unified primitive/futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic style with advanced electronic techniques. In 1976 he returned to the USA and recorded Vernal Equinox, his first attempt to integrate/expand raga studies with technological vocabulary. The record features Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos. In 1979 Earthquake Island was released and continued the highly influential genre of ethnic-inspired music and again featured Vasconcelos, along with Badal Roy and ex-Weather Report bass player Miroslav Vitous. In 1980 Brian Eno arrived in New York, and heard Vernal Equinox, and contacted Hassell about the possibility of a collaboration. The highly acclaimed Fourth World Volume One : Possible Musics released the same year pushed Hassell into the limelight and he was invited to play on the Eno-produced Talking Heads album Remain In Light. Fourth World Volume Two: Dreamy Theory In Malaya was released in 1981. The recording contained playing by Eno, and engineering by Daniel Lanois, and was again received with critical acclaim. In 1982, Hassell was invited to perform at the Womad festival in Bath, England, and to participate in the prestigious Rencontres Nord-Sud Conference on World Culture in Paris. AKA/Darbari/Java (Magic Realism) produced by Lanois in 1983 marked a new high point for Hassell in ‘techno-magic’ that permits the actual sound of music of various epochs and geographies to come together on the same canvas through the use of sampling and computer hardware. With the addition of percussionist J.A. Deane and keyboard player Jean-Philippe Rykiel, Hassell toured Europe and the USA. Eno produced Power Spot, in 1986, which contained recordings made by this group in 1983-84 and furthered Hassell’s reputation at the forefront of burgeoning interest in hybrid and world music. In 1984, David Sylvian invited Hassell to play on his first solo album, Brilliant Trees and the following year to collaborate on Alchemy - An Index Of Possibilities. The Surgeon Of The Night Sky Restores Dead Things By The Power Of Sound, again produced by Eno was released in 1987, documented the concert chemistry of the group that toured Europe in 1986. That same year, Kronos Quartet commissioned string quartet Pano De Costa from Hassell. It appears on their White Man Sleeps album. In 1987, Burkino Faso percussion ensemble Farafina invited Hassell to collaborate with them. The group played various festivals around the world, including Womad. The Eno/Lanois-produced Flash On The Spirit documented this highly original unique blend of styles and cultures. In 1989 Hassell relocated to Los Angeles, where he formed a new group to perform live, and recorded self-produced City: Works Of Fiction released to critical acclaim in 1990.

During the 90s and into the new millennium Hassell composed for dance companies (Merce Cunningham, Alvin Ailey Dance Company, and the Netherlands Dance Company), theatre productions (Sulla Strada andZangezi), television (the theme for The Practice), and film (The Million Dollar Hotel). In the early 00s he led a group comprising Baaba Maal, Howie B. , and John Beasley. Hassell remains an entirely unique performer with a visionary and highly original sound and style.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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