Jon Hassell tribute, part 1: Jon and his collaborators

by Dave Maier

Jon Hassell is one of America’s musical treasures, and I’ve been listening to his music for forty years, so when I heard he needed help for his medical care, I decided to make a mix of his music. This mix actually grew into two mixes, so look for another one next month. This one features Jon playing with other musicians, and part two will feature other musicians whom Jon has influenced (and a bit more from Jon himself).

Here’s the link to his gofundme page ( As of 5/24/20, 1100+ people have donated ~$75,000, but the listed goal is $200,000, and we all know how expensive medical care can be. Please do what you can.

Here’s the mix (direct link:

Jon Hassell – nature boy / Fascinoma
Rick Cox – long distance / maria falling away
Hadouk trio – Hijaz / Utopies
Jon Balke – Zahori / Siwan
Ry Cooder – Observatory / The End of Violence ST
Mandalay – It’s Enough Now / Instinct
Jon Hassell – Manga Scene / Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume One)
Ry Cooder – Video Drive-By / Trespass ST
Talking Heads – Houses in Motion / Remain in Light
David Sylvian – Brilliant Trees / s/t
Brian Eno – Shadow / On Land
Peter Gabriel – Passion / s/t

and here are some notes on the tracks:

1. Jon Hassell – nature boy / Fascinoma

From the liner notes:

After twentysome years of recordings and performances, this is the first time I’ve played someone else’s song. 

With this recording, I locate myself squarely within that aspect of music which is fundamental and irreducible: the beauty of the sound. This is what Dane Rudhyar calls “tone-magic” – a concept derived from ancient practice wherein the quality of the tone itself communicates meaning quite apart from any further arrangement in an “artifice” of music.

At the same time, I celebrate here my first contacts with musical exotica in the form of certain songs and melodies heard as a child on the radio or in movie scores. This music created a kind of permanent technicolor oasis in my spirit – a place where I always want to stop for a cool refreshing drink, whether from Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol’s “Caravan,” or Ravel or raga, or gamelan or Gil, or João or Joujouka – and a place which became the underlying spring from which flowed my “fourth world” musical paradigm.

To the memory of the great music master, the teacher and friend who gave me so much, Pandit Pran Nath, and to my father, whose silver cornet started it all.

On this track, a composition by Eden Ahbez, Ronu Majumdar joins Jon on bansuri flute.

Water Lily Acoustics, 1999

2. Rick Cox – long distance / maria falling away

Rick Cox is an ambient guitarist who has been a member of Jon’s circle for some time, and is an excellent composer in his own right (the long track on this record is terrific). Just Rick and Jon on this shorter one.

Cold Blue Records, 2001

3. Hadouk trio – Hijaz / Utopies

Didier Malherbe (a.k.a. “Bloomdido Bad de Grasse” — Mal herbe, get it?) was a member of Gong back in the day, and apparently he’s still around. On this record he plays various exotic wind instruments which I will not list, and is joined by bassist Loy Ehrlich and percussionist Steve Shehan (himself a longtime Hassell collaborator), as well as, on this track (a Shehan composition), Jon himself.

Naive Records, 2006

4. Jon Balke – Zahori / Siwan

I don’t know much about Jon Balke, but according to the minimal information I do have about this record, on most of it he plays keyboards and conducts a Baroque ensemble, and is credited with composition. Much of the record features Amina Alaoui on voice and co-composition, but on our track it seems to be just Jon H. and violinist Kheir-Eddine M’Kachiche, who has been a member of Jon H’s own band as well (see below). The reviewer at the blog where I found this image was not impressed by this track (I will not repeat his or her snippy remarks here), but I would have thought it was clear going in that even the rest of the record was not intended to be authentic Algerian or Moroccan music. (This happens when you do “fourth world” music …)

ECM Records, 2009

5. Ry Cooder – Observatory / The End of Violence ST

The End of Violence is a film by Wim Wenders which takes place in L.A. (not, as I recall, the first of his films to take place in the US, as I seem to recall that The State of Things did so as well; and of course (duh) Paris, Texas). Ry Cooder’s score well captures both the lyricism and vitality of that place. Our track was written by Ry Cooder, Joachim Cooder, Sunny Levine and Mark Hunel-Adrian.

Album credits:

Howie B.: Mixing
Gil Bernal: Tenor Sax
Joachim Cooder: Drums, Percussion and Programming
Ry Cooder: Guitar and Piano
Rick Cox: Prepared Guitar, Bass Sax and Samples
Sunny D. [Levine?]: Programming and Sampling
Mark Hunel-Adrian: Guitar
Flaco Jimenez: Accordion
Jim Keltner: Drums and Programming
Tonya Ridgely: Flute
William ‘Smitty’ Smith: Organ
Jacky Terrasson: Piano
James ‘Blood’ Ulmer: Guitar
Amir Yaghmai: Guitar
Featuring Jon Hassell: Trumpet Solos

Outpost Recordings, 1997

6. Mandalay – It’s Enough Now / Instinct

I never heard of Mandalay before seeing the name on a list of Jon’s collaborators, but they turn out to be a perfectly respectable trip-hop outfit, whom I will not disrespect by calling them “Portishead lite,” but if that helps get across their sound then so be it. Jon shows here that he can contribute his own special sauce to a track without dominating it.

V2 Records, 2000

7. Jon Hassell – Manga Scene / Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume One)

This is Jon’s latest release, from 2018.

From the bandcamp page:

pen·ti·men·to / noun 

Reappearance in a painting of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over. 

First new album in nine years by a musical visionary and hugely influential figure in new music. Forty years since its creation, Jon Hassell’s Fourth World aesthetic remains a powerful influence on modern electronic music. Continuing his lifelong exploration of the possibilities of recombination and musical gene-splicing, fragments of performance are sampled, looped, overdubbed and re-arranged into beguiling unexpected shapes. Hassell applies the painterly technique of ‘pentimento’ to the arrangements, teasing out texture by the overlaying of sound upon sound, or a carefully timed reveal of the delicate bones pinning the frame of a track together.

released June 8, 2018 

The release of this new album also sees the launch of Jon’s own label, Ndeya (pronounced “in-day-ya”), which will be a home for new work as well as well as selected archival releases, including re-presses of classic sides and some astonishing unreleased music.

I like the sound of that last bit! For more information about this record in particular or Jon’s thoughts on composition in general, check out this interview on Jon’s website, as well as this link.

Album credits:

Jon Hassell — trumpet, keyboards
Rick Cox — guitar, OP-1 synth
John Von Seegern — bass, drums
Hugh Marsh — electric violin
Peter Freeman bass, samples 
Ralph Cumbers “kongo” drum programming 
Eivind Aarset electric guitar, samples 
Kheir-Eddine M’Kachiche violin, samples 
Christoph Harbonnier (Lightwave) bass 
Christian Jacob (Lightwave) bass 
Michel Redolfi drone, samples 

Ndeya Records, 2018

8. Ry Cooder – Video Drive-By / Trespass ST

Here’s another Ry Cooder soundtrack, to a Walter Hill film from 1992. This one is rather more menacing, as befits the movie in question (I assume, as I haven’t seen it).

Album credits:

Ry Cooder – Guitars, floor slide, array imbira [sic], keyboards
Jim Keltner – Drums, percussion
Jon Hassell – Trumpet

Sire Records, 1992

9. Talking Heads – Houses in Motion / Remain in Light

This record (as well as the three before this, but this one especially) made a huge impact on me when it came out, not least because it took a while before I felt like I got it. You know who these people are (Brian Eno included). Jon is credited on this track with trumpets and horn arrangements. Jon’s own Possible Musics, also with Brian Eno, came out about this time as well. I played the trumpet briefly when I was a kid, and if I had known you could do that on the trumpet I never would have quit.

Sire Records, 1980

10. David Sylvian – Brilliant Trees / s/t

David Sylvian was the leader of the band Japan, who never made a big impression on me, but Sylvian’s solo records feature an eye-popping who’s who of progressive music royalty. (Still, I did find his vocal style a bit off-putting at first, kind of like Bryan Ferry squared). Jon co-composes two tracks here.

Words D. Sylvian Music D. Sylvian J. Hassell
David Sylvian Vocals Guitar Treated Piano Synthesiser Percussion Tapes
Holger Czukay Dictaphone Guitar French horn Voice
Steve Jansen Drums Percussion Synthesiser
Richard Barbieri Synthesiser
Ruichi Sakamoto Piano Synthesiser
Jon Hassell Trumpet

Virgin Records, 1984

11. Brian Eno – Shadow / On Land

On Land is better known as Ambient 4, the most soundscape-y of the four official Ambient discs, and features Eno’s fascinating and important remarks about what he was trying to do (I won’t quote them here though, although I hope to get back to them some other time). Jon provides some suitably spooky trumpet on one track.

E.G. Records, 1982

12. Peter Gabriel – Passion / s/t

Passion is the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ, based on Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel of the same name. I was hoping to hear more of it in the film itself, but this is why there are soundtrack records, after all.

Brazilian Percussion – Djalma Correa
Trumpet – Jon Hassell
Prophet 5, Akai S900, Fairlight, Voice
Qawwali Voice – Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Double Violin – Shankar
Voice – Youssou N’Dour
Choirboy – Julian Wilkins
Geffen Records, 1989

The cover art for the album, Drawing study for Self Image II ( 1987), is a mixed media composition by the artist Julian Grater.

That’s all for now. Next time: Jon and his influence.