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Maarifa Street

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Album Review

Each item in trumpeter Jon Hassell's discography, from 1977's Vernal Equinox (Lovely Music) through a string of albums in the 1980s and 1990s (including the two Fourth World outings on EG, Power Spot on ECM, and City: Works of Fiction on Opal) to the sleek instrumental hip-hop of 1994's Dressing for Pleasure (on Warner), is so exquisitely recorded and meticulously crafted and fussed over that the idea of a live Hassell album might at first sight seem alarming. But though the basic material for six of these seven tracks was indeed recorded in concert in Paris, Montreal, and Milan between 2000 and 2003, Hassell, true to form, has painstakingly reworked the source recordings, incorporating new material and "migrating" some elements from one performance to another (comparing the two versions of "Open Secret" is a fascinating exercise in itself). Indeed, if the booklet didn't tell you that "New Gods" was recorded in a studio in L.A., you'd never guess. Hassell's horn is as silky and understated as ever, and his band, including bassist Peter Freeman, keyboard whiz John Beasley, and guitarist Rick Cox (vocalist extraordinaire Dhafer Youssef guests on the tracks recorded in Paris), is the model of precision and good taste throughout. Hassell's work is often misleadingly billed as new age, but despite its accessibility it's far richer and multi-layered than most of the music tagged with that unfortunate epithet. Maarifa Street is a work of extraordinary compositional craftsmanship by a modern master.

Customer Reviews


Jon Hassell has been blowing my mind since the 70's. Neophytes might be familiar with his brief contribution to "Houses in Motion" on Talking Heads' "Remain in Light." This guy does stuff on a trumpet that only the great Buddha of blow, Miles Davis can approach. I tried writing an analysis of Hassell's "Fourth World Music" series in my college Music Appreciation class in the 80's, but had difficulty coheringa thesis. My professor requested that I play the one of the albums for him after class and just stood there, dumbfounded. He commended me on my fortitude and gave me an "A" on the paper. Essentially, I spent several pages explaining how Hassell defies catagorization and classification to a large degree. His music forms an organic landscape that creeps into being much like a Mati Klaarwein painting. "Maarifa Street" has that same impressionistic/textural quality as the "Fourth World" series. Subsequently, it makes great work music, a kind of whistful new-age transport out of your cubicle. I do not know if Hassell would appreciate this conclusion himself, but I would hope he is as highly flattered as I am satisfied with this work.


Jon Hassell has long been a known artist to me and a name that is familiar to many ECM, ambient and Brian Eno fans. Several years ago a friend of mine had me listen to Power Spot that came out one ECM. I thoroughly enjoyed it and really loved that trumpet sound which has become a staple in the ambient / jazz field. Now, I am rediscovering Jon's work in a newer light, with a fresh understanding of electronics mixed in a more wordly context, and this album like his Fourth Generation ones (that I just put on my iPod recently) is absolutely beautiful. This cat is awesome and I'm very grateful for his musical presence on the scene. Like Mark Isham, Art Lande and a few of those artists out there, Jon's work defies categorization. Jon really does justice to his sound by painstakingly being so meticulous about his recordings. This album, Maarifa Street finds Jon coming back to playing the trumpet using much less effects on the processing end, and boy is his tone naturally beautiful. Also, on Open Secret there is a gorgeous interplay between the trumpet, the oud and this very talented singer singing in Arabic. Maarifa Street is funky as well, without falling into the usual cliches or rhythms that many unfortunately seem to have a hard time getting out of, this album delivers the goods. Jon, I am a firm believer in artistic integrity: you are an inspiration to many of us, thank you.


Jon's music is in the same league as late Talk Talk and the solo career of Mark Hollis. It is on par with the more experimental songs of Radiohead. That really isn't helpful, but it gives you an idea where he's coming from. Like Talk Talk and Radiohead, Hassell evolves with each new album. He is writing and playing music for himself. Someone compared him to Miles Davis, and that's an apt comparison if you take into account Davis' more experimental work like "On the Corner". I'd like to see Jon separate himself, for just one album, from the percussion. His stellar trumpet work sometimes gets lost in the mix. It would be nice, just once, to hear him, unadulterated, really letting loose. That doesn't mean I want him to stop evolving or "dumb down" his work. I just love his trumpet work SO much, I'd love to feast on just that for an entire album. A good example of what I'm talking about is the musical interlude in the Donald Cammell film, "The Wild Side". The studio took the film from Donald, mostly because Donald wouldn't budge on incorporating Jon Hassell's music. Cammell committed suicide that same day. I have a copy of the film that includes Jon's BRILLIANT musical interlude during the well-done bedroom scene between Anne Heche and Joan Chen - it is very hard to find. I so wish Jon would release that music, because it is breath-taking.


Born: March 22, 1937 in Memphis, TN

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Trumpeter Jon Hassell was the originator and unrivaled master of the musical aesthetic he dubbed Fourth World -- in his own words, "a unified primitive/futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques." Born March 22, 1937, in Memphis, TN, he attended Rochester, NY's Eastman School of Music and Washington, D.C.'s Catholic University before studying in Europe under the legendary Karlheinz Stockhausen. After subsequent collaborations with minimalist pioneers...
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Maarifa Street, Jon Hassell
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