TERRY GROSS, host:
Trumpeter and composer Jon Hassell has worked with a very diverse group of performers over the last 30 years, including the Kronos Quartet, Bono, Brian Eno and Biorke. Hassell's mixture of world fusion, ambient electronica and minimalism was shaped by his studies with Karlheinz Schtockhausen and Indian vocalist Pran Nath, as well as his association with new music composers Tim Riley and La Monte Young.
Hassell has a new album called, "Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street." Hassell begins his first American tour in 20 years tonight. Music critic Milo Miles has a review of his new CD.
MILO MILES: Jon Hassell calls his style of music fourth world. Everyone who talks about him mentions it. As with Ornette Coleman's theory of harmolodics, nobody knows quite what Hassell means. He may be the only permanent inhabitant of the fourth world, but that's enough.
Hassell creates numbers with no set foreground or background, at once static and constantly in motion with instrumental interactions and solos that sound transient, at best. This suggests it might be music without clear beginnings, end or location points, but it's not. There's plenty of distinctive, specific language in something like the title track from his new "Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street," which is taken from a line by the soupy poet, Rumi.
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MILES: Hassell would seem to be grounded in classical minimalism or maybe jazz eclectic, but he's been embraced from early on by the experimental pop audience. Why? Well, pop has always been more open to scavengers and pick-up games, especially for players who have a sharp eye and unexpected moves.
Hassell first gained a wide audience in 1980 through his collaboration with Brian Eno, Fourth World, Volume One, Possible Musics. What is this thing, Eno fans wondered? And the answer is still not in, though the album has become a benchmark in the development of ambient music.
Likewise, Hassell's "Power Spot" from 1986 was a touchstone for electronica performers. And his "Dressing For Pleasure" in 1994 set the standard of modern jazz world fusion, particularly influential with younger European players. "Last Night The Moon" doesn't probe quite as deep as the earlier albums, but it features his most harmonious, long-standing group, Maarifa Street, and all of Hassell's trumpet tones, including his sly echoes of Miles Davis.
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MILES: For all his obstruce theorizing and articles and liner notes in his Web site, there's an earthy appeal that Hassell's montages that reminds me that he was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1937. You can take the trumpeter away from Beale Street but you can't entirely take Beale Street out of the trumpeter.
Somewhere in Hassell's clouds and shadow dances is some old-fashion soul sensibility. He enjoys being the cool cat you can't quite trace. Nobody fades in and out like Hassell. He's a particular master of the slow disappearance, as in this finale to "Light On Water."
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MILES: That's Jon Hassell for you. Gets a little fuzzy around the edges, then almost translucent, and then he's gone. A man of mystery to the end.
GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Boston. He reviewed Jon Hassell's new album, ""Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street." Hassell begins a seven-city tour tonight in Columbus, Ohio. You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
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