Björk, Bono, DiFranco, Townsend, Basquiat, and Glass have raved about Jon Hassell, the master innovator and visionary creator of what he calls “worldly music”—a mysterious hybrid of ancient and digital, composed and improvised, Eastern and Western. On his first U.S. tour in 20 years, composer/trumpeter Hassell, with his band Maarifa Street, performs at the Walker Art Center
’s William and Nadine McGuire Theater at 8 pm Thursday, February 12. Joining Hassel for this concert are musicians Peter Freeman (bass, laptop), Jan Bang (live sampling), Helge Norbakken (drums), and Kheir-Eddine M’Kachiche (violin).
Early in his career, Hassell worked with Karlheinz Stockhausen, La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and raga master Pandit Pran Nath, whose Hindustani vocal style was transmuted by him into a new trumpet sound. Rock innovators Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel collaborated with Hassell, then steered his ideas into the avant-pop sphere, where they have since evolved into post-jazz and rock forms. His 1999 album, Fascinoma, produced by Ry Cooder, opened a surprising new chapter in his recording career, creating a glorious acoustic sound that reaped critical acclaim. Hassell began touring with Maarifa Street in 2005, playing to European audiences from Norway and Madrid to Rome and Berlin astonished at the discovery of an atmospheric music which defies category: in France, Playboy wrote, “this celestial jazz is amazing”; about his performance at the Vienna Kunsthalle, the cathedral of classical, Der Standard raved, “the concert of the year.”
In the last two decades, Hassell’s connoisseur recordings, built around a completely unique "vocal" trumpet style (developed in studies with Pran Nath), have inspired a generation of collaborators. His trumpet performances show up on records of world stars like Björk, Baaba Maal, and Ibrahim Ferrer. Film and theater credits include scores for Wim Wenders (Million Dollar Hotel, with Bono), The Netherlands Dance Theater (Lurch), Peter Sellars (Zangezi), and the theme for the hit TV show The Practice.
Fascinoma, with bansri flute master Ronu Majumdar and jazz pianist Jacky Terrasson, inspired a new generation of European trumpet players like Arve Henriksen, Erik Truffaz, Paolo Fresu, and Nils Petter Molvaer, who have all acknowledged Hassell’s influence as leading beyond the gravitational pull of Miles Davis.
Montreal, Milan, and Paris concerts became the raw material for magical transformation in the 2005 release Maarifa Street/Magic Realism 2—another difficult-to-define musical fantasy stretched across geography and time, as was its 1983 namesake ka-Darbari-Java/Magic Realism.
In Tsegihi, a choral work for 100 voices and chamber group, premiered in the 11th century Norwich Cathedral in May 2008. This year, a reconnection with the prestigious ECM label has resulted in the just-released Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street and the Return to USA tour—from New York’s Zankel Hall to Royce Hall in Los Angeles—signalling the growing awareness of a master musician and a music without borders whose freshness comes increasingly into focus as time passes.