Jon Hassell

Sulla Strada [Soundtrack]

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Jon Hassell doesn't lay down his trumpet in his 1982 score for an Italian stage production, but it sure flies incognito. Neither the music nor the liner notes convey anything about this abstraction of Jack Kerouac's On the Road: whatever happened on the stages where the Magazzini theater group perfomed, this conglomeration of bizarre effects must've been as much a distraction to the players as to anyone else. Hassell attempts to translate his otherworldly horn sound through keyboards that alternately hum and jitter. The results are pleasant and should intrigue listeners who find his other work too unfocused: "Passaggio a Nord-Ovest" builds and recedes with a grand sheen worthy of Philip Glass' stage work; other effects such as the bell-like trumpet melismas of "Temperature Variabili" are more elegant here than when they reappeared in Hassell's later work. But his finest music isn't just weird. It wipes away time rather than motion. Here, the trancelike feel the artist has always located in his Cameroonian sources is undone by synthesizer arrangements too spiky for ambient music and too static to provide any urgency, no matter how hard Nana Vasconcelos hammers his udu drum. And in any case, like most conglomerations, some parts are smoother than others. The strongest single piece of music here is nearly 22 and a half minutes worth of the ultimate cool-out, "Charm (Over 'Burundi Cloud')"; two years earlier it was the whole second side of that terrific cool-out album, Possible Musics: Fourth World, Vol. 1. Listeners new to this artist's ways should start there.

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