Jon Hassell and Brian Eno: Fourth World Music Vol. 1: Possible Musics
It's always a fascinating exercise to re-aquaint oneself with a recording that one thoroughly absorbed upon its original release. When Fourth World Music Vol. 1: Possible Musics originally appeared in 1980, it wouldn't be exaggerating too much to say that nothing quite like Jon Hassell's trumpet sound had ever been heard before. If there was a precursor, the closest thing to it was Miles Davis's electric playing as documented on the scorched-earth live sets Agharta, Pangaea, and Dark Magus. On Fourth World Music Vol. 1: Possible Musics, Hassell's horn resembles a wailing elephant or braying horse, a thing more animal-like than human.
The Fourth World Music Vol. 1: Possible Musics title is itself interesting. The fact that Possible Music was included suggests that the album was conceived as a proposal or blueprint for a particular direction, while Fourth World Music alludes to a stage beyond existing forms, a borderless, time-transcending zone where both primitive and future elements comfortably co-exist. Now reissued by Glitterbeat, the album still sounds fresh, despite the fact that its exotic character has been absorbed and assimilated in the decades since its original release. The album has exerted a huge influence on many artists, and it's hard to imagine the kind of music Nils Petter Molvaer and Bill Laswell would have created in its absence.
The co-crediting of the album to Brian Eno and Hassell remains somewhat of a contentious issue. Most of the tracks are credited to both, despite the fact that “Charm (Over “Burundi Cloud”)” formed part of Hassell's in-concert repertoire before its album appearance. And the trumpeter has emphasized over the years that Eno's role on the project was primarily that of producer. Yet while that might be true, it's also the case that any project involving Eno during that era ended up being profoundly marked by his presence and sensibility; consider, for example, the degree to which his role as a producer influenced Talking Heads' More Songs About Buildings and Food and Remain in Light.
With the exception of “Griot (Over “Contagious Magic”),” which was recorded on January 25, 1980 at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Eno and Hassell produced the album at Celestial Sound in New York City. The tracks themselves feature Hassell soloing against stark percussive backdrops provided by Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos and Senegalese drummer Ayibe Dieng; augmenting the tracks are Eno on guitar and synthesizer as well as bass playing on individual tracks by Percy Jones, Jerome Harris, and Michael Brook.During “Chemistry,” Hassell smothers Jones's funk bass lines and the percussionists' ghatam rhythms with a dense cloud of horn dust, his trumpet shuddering at certain moments and stinging like a scorpion at others. Harris's lines likewise lend “Ba-benzélé” a funky feel in a track that features Eno's Prophet 5 synthesizer as prominently as the trumpet. “Rising Thermal 14° 16' N; 32° 28' E,” on the other hand, locates itself deep within some night-time African forest where Hassell's loops and smears interweave with Eno's enveloping synth atmospheres. The coup de grace is, of course, the twenty-two-minute “Charm (Over “Burundi Cloud”),” which features Hassell musing at length against a slow-motion swelter of percussion and synth washes. Forty-six of the most influential minutes in ambient-electronic music history, Fourth World Music Vol. 1: Possible Musics still casts a potent spell thirty-four years on from its first appearance.