Jon Hassell - Vernal Equinox

by Kevin Wierzbicki

This is a reissue of Hassell's widely-acclaimed first commercially available release; the 1977 effort is available here on CD for the first time in 30-years. Hassell plays trumpet but not in the traditional way; almost every note he plays here is altered with electronics to present the horn in a very unique way. Hassell is well-traveled and has studied global music in many locations abroad, and what he does here is use the treated trumpet parts to mimic vocal styles of various cultures that he's heard on his journeys. The results are nothing short of stunning on this set of instrumentals, global music that's an amalgam of deeply soulful jazz and ambient sounds. Hassell also plays Fender Rhodes piano on opening cut "Toucan Ocean" where his trumpet squawks like a jungle awakening, while guest player Nana Vasconcelos sets the day's tempo on congas. "Viva Shona" has the appropriate African feel to it, not only because Hassell's horn channels tribal chanting but also because of Vasconcelos communicating with Hassell on the talking drum and sublime playing of the mbira (thumb piano) by David Rosenboom. Perhaps the most spectacular work here though is "Blue Nile" where Hassell's treated trumpet, floating over a synthesizer drone, conjures an awe and magnificence that might announce the arrival of the pharaoh himself. Mid song Hassell's playing gets a little frenetic, as if the procession has stopped momentarily to allow the people to revel in their king's majesty. Title cut "Vernal Equinox" moves sonically to the sub-continent with Rosenboom's use of dumbek and tabla adding the flavor of India while closing cut "Caracas Night September 11, 1975" finds Hassell toning down the effects and playing it straight for the very brief cut. Many will point to this album as an example of Hassell being ahead of his time; those who don't realize the recording is more than 40-years old may think the same today.

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