Jon Hassell / March 22nd, 1937 – June 26th, 2021

On June 26th, the musician and theorist Jon Hassell sadly passed away. I guess, in superficial terms, the thing that he’ll be best remembered for is coining the “Fourth World” concept. Easily misinterpreted, in the 21st Century “Fourth World” isn’t a phrase that can be readily bandied about – I’ve had to shift to “otherworldly”  – since it raises very thorny questions around colonialism and cultural appropriation. But Hassell`s intentions were so clearly never an extension of “First” and “Third” world labels, or their resultant ghettoization. Instead he was dreaming of an imagined continent where past and future survive in synergy. Kind of obsessed with sex and sensuality, his haven was a place of hybridization and harmony, and not division. Rendering geography redundant. Tracing all music to a common pre-historic, primordial, core. Reuniting us all as one tribe. As part of this quest, Hassell by his own admission was a fairly frequent user of psychedelics and psychoactives – check the stories alluded to in his wonderful liner notes for the recent Vernal Equinox reissue. Travelling the globe in pursuit of the esoteric knowledge that they can impart. Spending significant amounts of time in Africa, Haiti, India, and South America – imbibing, listening, and learning.

Hassell studied with Stockhausen, alongside Can`s Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt, and, together with La Monte Young and Terry Riley, became a student of Pandit Pran Nath. In New York, in the late `70s, he jammed with Don Cherry and Nana Vasconcelos. Inspired by “Electric Miles”, Bitches Brew, and Live-Evil, his horn playing mixed Birth Of The Cool romanticism with the sound of a sacred Dehradun conch. His compositions combined the heritage of Farafina, Gnawa, Indonesia, Kirana, and Senegal, with Duke Ellington. In 2018 I wrote a review of Hassell`s then new album, Listening To Pictures, his first in nine years. I titled the piece, “Hassell`s Children”, and within it I cross-referenced a long, long, list of younger artists who I felt had been directly influenced by Jon`s work – 7FO, Fatima Al Qadir, Basic Channel, Beautiful Swimmers, Cosmic Handshakes, Durian Brothers, Yoshinori Hayashi, Arve Henriksen, Kaoru Inoue, Sam Kidel, Jonny Nash, Oneohtrix Point Never, and Visible Cloaks. On Saturday, prior to hearing that day’s sad news, I was picking records from my shelves for an upcoming DJ gig. Looking at that pile of vinyl, I`d also add Asa Tone, Georgia, MLO, Roberto Musci, Deep Nalstrom, The Orb, O Yuki Conjugate, and RAMZi, to those aforementioned names. 

Hassell`s impact on modern music is immense, impossible to really estimate. Every time I hear a balafon, kalimba, or a gamelan gong, in an electronic context, dancing to a machined beat, I wonder would that have happened without Jon? Within the “Hassell`s Children” piece I posited that, ultimately Hassell was in fact more influential than his most famous fan, Brian Eno, and I stand by that. Hassell, don`t forget, was the man behind the idea that was borrowed for My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. He significantly shaped the sonics of superstar collaborators, such as David Sylvian and Peter Gabriel, plus I guess you could also argue that Jon was responsible for the direction of German label ECM`s whole oeuvre. Didn`t even former primo punk rocker, John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon, play Dream Theory In Malaya on the radio? 

Jon Hassell, thank you for the music. Rest in peace. 

Jon Hassell – Cobra Moon
Jon Hassell – Ba Benzele
Jon Hassell – Solaire
Jon Hassell – Dream Theory
Jon Hassell – Toucan Ocean
David Sylvian – Words With The Shaman
Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses – Notte
Peter Gabriel – Passion
Lloyd Cole – Big Snake
Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses – Anima
David Sylvian – Weathered Wall
Jon Hassell – Slipstream 

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