Copyright ©2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

The trumpet has high-brow roots. It first served royalty, the military and polite society, then flourished in more pedestrian forums, public squares, dance halls and juke joints. The trumpet's call is now heard in almost every form, even something called `fourth-world music.'

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Trumpeter Jon Hassell began to create what he dubbed fourth-world music in the 1970s. He defines it as a unified, primitive, futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques. His new CD, "Maarifa Street," continues his exploration of this aesthetic.

Jon Hassell has collaborated with sonic pioneer Brian Eno as well as choreographers Merce Cunningham and Alvin Ailey. Hassell once mounted an art installation that used sound waves to erode sand dunes. He's written film scores and the theme music to TV's "The Practice."

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Jon Hassell joins us from the studios of NPR West.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. JON HASSELL (Trumpeter; Composer): Hi, Liane.

HANSEN: Do you mind if we stay on your history just a little bit longer? Because you actually sent to us a very early example of your work. It's a sound file of a recording that you made with raga master Pandit Pran Nath. Let's listen to just a little bit of it.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. PANDIT PRAN NATH: Now shape give.

HANSEN: Why is this important to you?

Mr. HASSELL: This was a very--I mean, when he says, `Now shape give,' right, at the end, that's the most important thing. In Indian raga, it's drawing a beautiful shape, it's about life, musical calligraphy, actually. So I put this up there as a kind of like, `Look, here it is. I have authority.' I already had my master's degree in music composition from Eastman, you know, was playing trumpet, you know, in other contexts and so here it was almost like starting over again. So I had to try and like imitate what the voice does. The voice doesn't have discreet little roody, toot, toot, things like a normal sort of trumpet, you know, association. So it's all about fluidity and, you know, squeezing the melodic line out of the toothpaste tube, so to speak.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HASSELL: That principle of, like, giving shape to a melody became a window into which I could appreciate something later on like Johnny Hodges, a great alpha saxophone player, with Duke Ellington and the way that he shaped his phrases was something very much, you know, very vocal; they're very close to that.

HANSEN: You go for this human voicelike sound of your trumpet, but you also--you use electronic devices. A device in particular, something called a harmonizer.

Mr. HASSELL: Well, the--you know, a trumpet's a lonely instrument and a harmonizer digitally reconstructs the sound of the--whatever you're putting into it at another interval. So it's like holding a pencil in your hand and drawing a curve and then holding two pencils in the same hand and drawing a curve. So--which is--relates to organum in church music, you know, the parallel intervals. So that's--with a wave, like, extending the harmonic implications of raga. If you--then if I added another note, then that meant that--if you took all the notes that are sounding within that particular one-second burst or something, you have an extension of the harmonic atmosphere of raga.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: World music, per se--I mean, it's now a category. You know, you can go into a record store and go to the world music section. I mean, you have been able to do that for decades. Now it's almost main street. Do you see your music fitting into this scene?

Mr. HASSELL: Well, if we go back to my first record, "Vernal Equinox," in 1977 in which I started combining electronics and the stuff that I'd learned from Pran Nath and the influence from Miles and Gil Evans, it became very influential and Brian Eno wrote about, you know, having picked up that record in the late '70s when he was in New York and said, you know, `I love this. Let's do something together.' So that was a record, "Possible Musics," that came out in 1980.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HASSELL: It was actually in The New York Times top 10 list and it became very influential and that was just sort of the source for at least a certain strain of this world music phenomenon. But my idea, this fourth-world aesthetic, was to take something which is more refined. I make the distinction between world music and worldly music. Someone who's worldly is not walking into your--you know, doesn't wear dashki or come in playing an African pan pipe, or it's not something he wears on his sleeve. He's been places. He's done things. He's digested culture. He's not hitting anyone over the head with it. He's coming up with something which is a new flavor.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: You actually use the artist who did the album cover for "Bitches Brew," as well as Santana's "Abraxas," on yours. It's an artist by the--do you pronounce Mati Klarwein.

Mr. HASSELL: Klarwein. Right, uh-huh.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. HASSELL: Yes. Mati is famous for the Santana "Abraxas" and "Bitches Brew" albums and we became really, really close. I felt that what he was doing in his art was very close to what I--how I felt about music. It was like there was no separation between the sensual side and the spiritual side. Everything was all one thing. I mean, it was very sexy. I mean, after all, at the most fundamental level, what is sex about other than the propagation of the species. So that combination of like sexiness, let's say, wherein music, to me, would mean like the Miles Davis, Gil Evans axis of things, that lush, urban sound was there and at the same time as all these other associations. And so Mati died a couple of years ago and he was living in Deia in Majorca, this beautiful hill town, and I spent some time there and felt very, very close to him, so this album is dedicated to him.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: You were at his home. That's where you got the sheep bells?

Mr. HASSELL: Yes. There had been sheep wondering around in the hills at night and they all have these bells that are made locally and they're all different pitches so it's like a wondering gamelan orchestra really, if you know, the bounties gamelan. So I recorded some of that late at night when I was staying there in the summertime and that was woven into one of the pieces that's on this record as a kind of a sonic tribute and memory.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Jon Hassell. His new CD, "Maarifa Street," is released this Tuesday on his own label, Nyen Records. He joins us from the studios of NPR West.

Jon, thanks a lot.

Mr. HASSELL: Thank you, Liane.

HANSEN: There's more information and music on our Web site, npr.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: