Jon Hassell, live 1989


Jon Hassell’s 1990 album City: Works Of Fiction was reissued by All Saints recently in a smartly packaged three-CD/double-vinyl set. The highlight of the additional material was an hour-long concert by Hassell and his ensemble—Gregg Arreguin, Jeff Rona, Adam Rudolph and Daniel Schwartz—recorded at the Winter Garden of the World Financial Center in New York City on 17th September, 1989. It’s a great performance that sees the group running through some of the pieces that would later be recorded for the City album. Brian Eno was offstage mixing the sounds of rain forest creatures into the music.

Having listened to this concert regularly since the summer it’s been a surprise to find a video recording of what appears to be the very same performance. The tape has the date as the 16th but the music is an exact match for the CD; according to the NYT the group played three nights in all. The reduced lighting makes for gloomy visuals, and the musicians are much more concerned with playing than leaping around the stage. For me the attraction is simply seeing Hassell and company working their magic with such authority; some of Hassell’s pauses show his use of digital loops, something that’s never been so obvious on record. These performances, and the album that followed, saw a shift in the evolution of the “fourth world” concept, Hassell’s term for a “coffee-coloured classical music of the future” that would blend the first world and the third world, the past and the future, into new hybrids. The sleeve-notes for the City album began: “Spirit: not only in the forest but in the carwash, too.” Bringing palm trees and jungle sounds into the heart of Manhattan develops that idea. Hassell talked to The Wire about the album in 1990.

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Power Spot by Michael Scroggins