Jon Hassell: Vernal Equinox

In brief:
"It's an intoxicating and strange record that hasn’t aged at all. Despite our exposure to world jazz, nu-jazz and minimal electro mash-ups Vernal Equinox still sounds like it is from an otherworldly place ... Do yourself, and him, a favour – buy this record"

This reissue of Jon Hassell’s 1977 debut album was very timely. It came just as the veteran experimentalist is having a serious health crisis back home in the US, amid the escalating Covid-19 pandemic.

Several erstwhile collaborators, including Brian Eno, have backed a fundraising effort to keep Hassell safe. He has a special place in the heart of artists that transcend the usual geographic, electronic/acoustic boundaries of contemporary music.

Advertisement

On the trumpeter’s Just Giving page, Eno describes how, over the last 50 years, Hassell’s fourth-world music “opened the way for a fresh look at, and deeper respect for, the music of other cultures”. One contributor to the appeal astutely comments that Hassell effectively “picked up some musical strands left by unresolved by Miles Davis”.

There’s certainly a direct line In jazz between Vernal Equinox and what we hear today in the music of contemporary horn players like Erik Truffaz, Paolo Fresu and Nils Petter Molvaer.

It’s an intoxicating and strange record that hasn’t aged at all. Despite our exposure to world jazz, nu-jazz and minimal electro mash-ups Vernal Equinox still sounds like it is from an otherworldly place, as if we’re making contact with a remote culture for the first time.

Hassell’s treated trumpet sound can resemble some sort of mythical messenger’s horn sending signals out over the cosmic mist. At other times, it’s like we are hunting in the rain forest and Hassell’s instrument is making animalistic call signs, as percussion rains down from the canopy. Hassell is a jazz player at all times however and his feeling for harmonic variance and line of improvisation is never completely abandoned.

Do yourself, and him, a favour – buy this record.

Discography
Toucan Ocean; Viva Shona; Hex; Blue Nile; Vernal Equinox; Caracas Night September 11, 1975 (51.16)
Hassell (t, elp); Andy Jerison (syn); Miguel Fransconi (bells, clave); Nicolas Kilbourn (mbira, talking drum); David Rosenboom (synth, pc); Nana Vasconcelos (pc); William Winjara (kanjira). Toronto & NY October 1976 – October 1977.
Nndeya NDEYA2LP / NDEYA2CD / NDEYA2DL

Advertisement
Advertisement

Jazz Journal articles by month

Advertisement

Phillip Johnston: Diggin’ Bones / The Adventures of Prince Achmed

The saxophonist leader of the Microscopic Septet – that either means a great deal to you, or nothing – moved to Australia...
Advertisement

Still Clinging To The Wreckage 02/20

I have in my collection a 60-year-old dubbing that is very worn because I think it to be one of the most...
Advertisement

Jimmy Bryant: Inside Story

While not many things are certain in this life, I know that everyone reading this has heard the voice of Jimmy Bryant,...
Advertisement

Decoding Afro-Cuban Jazz: The Music Of Chucho Valdés & Irakere

This could quite easily have been separated into two very worthwhile and possibly more detailed books – one explaining the complexities of...
Advertisement

Joe Louis Walker: Viva Las Vegas Live

Joe Louis Walker came to Las Vegas, strapped on his guitar, plugged in and blasted the desert city with a set chock-full...
Advertisement