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Trumpeter Jon Hassell's 'Fourth World' Music
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Trumpeter Jon Hassell's 'Fourth World' Music


Trumpeter and composer Jon Hassell used to joke, I do country music - it's just a matter of what country.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Maybe it's a matter of what planet. Decades ago, Hassell coined the term fourth world music to describe his sound, that's both primitive and futuristic. He continues to explore new sonic landscapes on his latest album CD for ECM Records. It's called, "Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street." Jon Hassell is also on his first North American tour in more than two decades and he joins us from the road and member station WOSU in Columbus, Ohio. Welcome back, Jon.

Mr. JON HASSELL(Musician and Composer): Thanks, Liane. It's good to be back.

HANSEN: Four years ago, right? You were on our program.

Mr. HASSELL: Right. Shockingly, yes.

HANSEN: Yeah. This title, "Last Night the Moon Came Dropping its Clothes in the Street," that's a pretty big mouthful. Where is it from, was does it mean in terms of the music that's on this recording?

Mr. HASSELL: Well, it's a line from a poem by Rumi, the Persian poet, 13th century, and the whole thing is, Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street, I took it as a sign to start singing, falling up into the ball of sky. Rumi is sort of the beginning of the idea of like Sufism and Islam and kind of a hippie, right? I mean, he was a very - you didn't know if he was praising God or talking about a hot looking girl passing by. So the title itself, that "Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street," has a combination of like cosmic and a bit sexy.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: What kind of electronics are we hearing on this new CD? Because you are a trumpeter, but there are times when I'm having trouble finding out where the trumpet is.

Mr. HASSELL: Well, it's a double whammy there because the thing I start with is a much softer sound. It's a very vocal sound and lots of air, but I've always been involved for electronics and electronic music. I studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen in Germany in the '60s and so, I added - in the sense, let's take this picture the way hold your drawing on the wall with one pencil, drawing curves and then you take two pencils or three pencils and hold them in your hand and draw so that you're drawing parallel lines. So the harmonizer gives the trumpet another pitch.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HASSELL: I think the most important single thing in my inspiration was my study with Pandit Pran Nath, a fantastic classical Indian raga singer. So I started to play trumpet in a different way, drawing lines in space, musical lines, kind of arabesque kind of musical calligraphy. A certain kind of curve where you touch one line but don't touch another, and touch this one lightly and touch that one more, very beautiful and subtle.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: I have to ask you only because I'm not sure I trust my own ears. In the track, I think it's called, "Abu Gil"

Mr. HASSELL: Gil, as in Gil Evans.

HANSEN: Gil Evans, right. "Abu Gil," about six and a half minutes into the track, track three. Am I hearing Duke Ellington's "Caravan"?

Mr. HASSELL: (Laughing). Yes, you are.

(Soundbite of song "Abu Gil")

Mr. HASSELL: You know, I did that actually in the record I did with Ry Cooder called Fascinoma. I played "Caravan," a couple of versions of caravan actually, and it's one of those melodies that just - in the mosaic of melodies that are in the air, right? It's one that I kept following into.

HANSEN: Interesting. (Laughing)

Mr. HASSELL: Good going, Liane.

HANSEN: Yeah. I mean, I honestly didn't trust it. My ears perked up and my producer's ears apparently perked up because when I came in before the interview, I said, I can't believe you heard "Caravan." I did too. He goes, oh, I'm glad you said that because I wasn't sure it was there either. (Laughing)

Mr. HASSELL: Well, actually, you know, there are - it's one of the jazz conventions, you know, to some, to throw in a little melodic reference to another tune and when you stumbled upon it in improvisation, and you suddenly those intervals are there, and you say, OK, I'll got off here for a second and just make a little reference.

(Soundbite of song "Abu Gil")

HANSEN: Now, you have the recording and you're doing concerts. Are there challenges to performing this music live?

Mr. HASSELL: Well, doing anything live is a challenge, of course and you know, the trumpet is not - there's nothing automatic about it. I mean, it's - sometimes I joke, you know, what a strange way to make a living by buzzing your lips, but it's a very miniature athletic event that's going on. So, yes, it's challenging, and what we do, I mean - for instance, two of the players on this - that are on tour are live sampling. It's a bit like a kind of extended idea of the DJ role, but they're actually taking things that are happening in the concert simultaneously and just throwing it back into the mix either at a different pitch or tuning a cord into a melody or vice versa, that kind of thing. So, it's more in the raaga vein in the sense that there's a structure that's there. But what happens when it's actually performed is for that moment and for that time and for that audience and for ourselves at that given moment. So it's a - I think, a nice experience.

HANSEN: Why it has taken 20 years then to get back on the road?

Mr. HASSELL: (Laughing). Well, I wasn't asked.

HANSEN: (Laughing)

Mr. HASSELL: It's the short version of that because, you know, there's been - I have immediate recognition in Europe and you know, back in when I did Possible Musics, with Brian, you know, back in 1980. We're on the cover of Actuel, this very influential French magazine, a kind of combination of Life Magazine and Rolling Stone at the same time, and the introduction of African music into pop music was the kind of hook for it and so, I've always had a more receptive audience there and the euro is high. (Laughing). So - but I'm hoping, you know, there'll be more American concerts after this.

HANSEN: Trumpeter Jon Hassell, he's currently on tour playing tonight at World Cafe, live in Philadelphia and later this week in New York, Minneapolis and Los Angeles. He joined us from the studios of WOSU in Columbus, Ohio. Thanks very much, Jon. Good luck on the tour.

Mr. HASSELL: Thank you, Liane.

HANSEN: The new CD on ECM Records is called, "Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street." You can hear full audio cuts from the recording on our website,

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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