REVIEW
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA
PHOTO CREDIT: JIMMY DE SANA



Jon Hassell   ‘Dream Theory In Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two’
tak:til/Glitterbeat Records,  29th September 2017

Proving a fruitful enterprise in the exploratory music department and a welcome extension of the ambient and minimalist genres, the, what should seem on the surface, harmonious partnership between Brian Eno and Jon Hassell proved anything but; leading eventually towards acrimony. These now iconic Fourth World Music albums, the first volume being Possible Musics, were borne entirely from Hassell’s solo traverses in global music experimentation, though Eno’s minor but significant, if not entirely obvious, involvement grabs the attention and headlines: The second volume, Dream Theory In Malaya made no such distinctions, and would be credited wholly to Hassell.

Already artistically riding high on a crust of acclaimed production projects and numerous semi-successful collaborations and solo albums, when the famous Eno touched down in New York City in 1978, the ambient pioneer would nonetheless unintentionally help direct another important development in the fields of ambient and world music. Absorbed in what the city had to offer him musically, Eno would fatefully during his investigations come across the stripped and atmospherically rich experiments of the gifted trumpeter/composer Hassell, whose own pathway from adroit pupil of Stockhausen to seminal work on Terry Riley’s harangued piano guided In C, encompassed a polygenesis of influences: a lineage that draws inspiration from avant-garde progenitors like La Monte Young, and travels far and wide, absorbing sounds from Java to Burundi.

So impressive is Hassell’s CV and study credentials – studying with an array of diverse bastions of indigenous music styles, including Hindustani classical singer and mystic, Pran Nath – that many other such luminaries, both before and since, attempted to court his attention for possible collaborations (Peter Gabriel, David Sylvain included). Though a minor figure in the sense of worldwide recognition, and never one to brush with any sort of commercial popular success, Hassell irked out his own personal philosophy. With a handy masters degree in composition, he attempted a reification of what he would term the “fourth world”; a style that reimagined an amorphous hybrid of cultures; a merger between the traditions and spiritualism of the third world (conceived during the “cold war” to denote any country that fell outside the industrious wealthier west, and not under the control of the Soviet Empire) and the technology of the first. The record that initially charmed and impressed Eno, Hassell’s eclectic Vernal Equinox, blended a mystical suffused atmosphere of the Middle East with vaporous trials of South America and the Orient to the West to create minimalistic transmissions from a timeless geography. A meeting at the performance artist space The Kitchen cemented the deal that would see Eno produce Hassell’s, now iconic, visionary Fourth World Vol.1: Possible Musics peregrination – also, though a while ago now, reissued by Glitterbeat Records.

Annoyed and aggrieved, Hassell had seen as a result of Eno’s contributions his work categorized under the English ambient progenitors own name in record stores; demoted to support or a bit-part player role on his own compositions. He’d also been more than a bit frustrated and peeved that Eno was heavily borrowing and appropriating Hassell’s Fourth World concepts for his subsequent famous collaborations with David Byrne on the My Life in The Bush Of Ghosts and Remain In Light albums.

Eno was however forgiven long enough to be welcomed back into the fold on Dream Theory; even going as a far as to grant him a trumpet solo on the out-of-body projected traverse of a wet Malaysian jungle peregrination These Times. And because he was always generous with the introductions, and more importantly, they offered ‘exceptional rates’, Eno put Hassell in touch with the ‘enterprising and talented’ Lanois brothers (Daniel and Bob) who at that time, on the cusp of the 80s, were building a steady reputation for themselves out of their ‘chez’ home studio in Hamilton, close by to Toronto.

Adding to this musical exploration dream team was sessions coordinator Michael Brooks (known for his work with the celebrated Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan), who’s home in Toronto Hassell commuted from to the studio each day, and in the most removed way, former Velvet Underground drummer (the first in fact to sit in for the band) and renowned conceptual artist/land art sculptor Walter De Maria, who popped in just for ‘fun’ and may or may not have left a presence of distant drums on the misty fuzz veiled Polynesian fantasy, Courage.




In the borderless compositions of Hassell, evocative traces, hazy semblances and the reification of dreams manifest through transformed instrumentation to create an amorphous reimagined soundscape. As the leading quote from Hassell’s linear notes make clear, this is a new form of classicism – a re-classification if you like -; eroding the dominance of central Europe’s great composers for that of cultures from Southeast Asia, Africa and Australasia.

The concept of Dream Theory In Malaysia is no different, the central theme and interest piqued both by the anthologist study of the same name by Kilton Stewart, and the ‘water splash rhythm with giggling children and birds from a [the Semelai] tribe’ sound recording that accompanied the Queen’s tour of the Commonwealth sanctioned book, Primitive Peoples. Adventurer Stewart famously chronicled the ‘dream tribe’ Senoi people of the central Malaysian peninsular, whose ancestors had made the voyage across from Southern Thailand 4,500 years ago. The Senoi are practitioners of ‘lucid dreaming’ of course, a phenomenon that Hassell lapped up in a romantic affair with the region and its people (as an aside, Hassell’s notes throw in a love tryst with an ‘exotically-tuned’ woman from Kuala Lumpur for good measure).

Leaving his mind to wander, Hassell’s transmogrified nuzzling trumpet was set loose on the dreamy visages of Malaya. Invented scales transcribed over mysterious celluloid picturesque panoramas and more humid, almost stifling and abundant muffled fauna and vegetation wild spaces permeate this ambient escapism, as subtle echoes of the indigenous instrumentation ring out in a ghostly fashion; especially the Malay tambourine known as a ‘rebana’, and the local variant of a gong, as used by the Semelai people – like the Senoi dreamers, another branch of the Orang Asli collective of ethnic peoples that inhabit Malaysia’s peninsular, brought into the sphere of this semi-fictional, semi-factual suite.

Paddle beaten percussion, wooden fluty drones, a languid bass guitar, and what sounds like the kind of car horn you’d find on a Model T Ford, merge in this vaporous swirl of a soundscape. But it’s Hassell’s serialism and transduced tones and layers that guide the listener; from sucked-in heralded fanfares to snuffling and zigzagging ripples of descriptive scene setting and landscaping.

Re-released, for the first time since its original release in 1981, Dream Theory In Malaya is the fourth album in Glitterbeat Records new tak:til series. It fits congruously of course within this imprints framework and vision of a borderless reimagined musical landscape unbeholden to convention and structure. And once again celebrates the mavericks and pioneers striving to reinvent what ‘global music’ can be: in this case an undiscovered expanse of imagination and possibilities.





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REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona




Released in quick succession the upcoming congruous 75 Dollar Bill and Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society albums double-bill of entrancing experimental peregrinations not only represents the sonic intentions of Glitterbeat Records new imprint scion tak:til but also represents a mutual enterprise of partnership between networks and labels, both in Europe and in the States. The first of these albums, the 75 Dollar Bill duo of NYC-based musicians Rick Brown and Che Chen’s long-winded staccato Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock – abbreviated forthwith as W/M/P/P/R/R – was originally released back in the summer of 2016 via Thin Wrist Recordings, to much fanfare and critical acclaim from the music press. Meanwhile, Joshua Abrams’ Simultonality, the fourth album in the Natural Information Society’s nine-year history, is a new release in conjunction with eremite records – a partnership that’s hoped will spread Abrams’ vision to a wider audience in Europe.

Sharing some familiar themes with, indeed inspired by, Glitterbeat’s mini series of ambient releases, spearheaded by the re-release of Jon Hassell’s innovative “fourth world musics” classic with Brian Eno, Vol 1: Possible Musics, both albums reflect the raison d’etre of the new tak:til off-shoot. Adhering to Hassell’s blurring of the divide between futurism and tradition, 75 Dollar Bill traverse the psychedelic desert rock and trance of the Maghreb, avant-garde, jazz and even swamp boogie delta blues in a most indolent but listless transient manner on W/M/P/P/R/R. Motivated by an interest in “compound meters” – meter involves the way multiple pulse layers work together to organize music in time; a compound essentially dividing the beat into three equal parts -, but playing in a fashion that feels natural and organic, the follow-up to 2015’s more “forward momentum, stomping and shaking” style Wooden Bag is a nuanced clever exploration of interconnected tonality and tactile responses to a wealth of harmonics and melodies from a pan-global array of influences: from modal jazz to Arabic modes and eastern scales.





Expanding from a core duo of plywood crate percussion and electric guitar to a full-on accompaniment of brass, contrabass and floor tom live, Che and Brown are joined on stage by a number of friends and musicians. A loose unit, the line-up can change, though many appear on this four track suite, including Cheryl Kingan (The Scene Is Now), Andrew Lafkas (Todd Gapp’s Mystery Train), Karen Waltuch (Zeke & Karen), Rolyn Hu (True Primes) and Carey Balch (Knoxville’s Give Thanks). What they produce is an often adumbrate, repetitive experience that builds gradually, slowly releasing various tangents of interplay.

The opener, Earth Saw, for instance (a compound meter trip) meanders, or rather limps “aksak” style along to a slow 9 beat phase; one minute recalling Tinariwen, the next, something far more atavistic and ceremonial. On the following untethered to any demarcated timing Beni Said the outfit twin the delta blues origins of West Africa with the Mississippi; carousing to a box full of bottle caps apparatus percussion over sand dunes and Cajun swamp porches simultaneously. Almost as a break in transmission, the shorter (almost a vignette in comparison) Cummins Falls is powered by a Bo Diddley floor tom and maracas primal shakedown to produce a strange ritualistic link back to the rock’n’roll soup. Returning to longer expanses, the longest sonic experiment on the whole album, I’m not Trying To Wake Up, has an even looser gait and languidly moves through a wafting saxophone punctuated jazz, Afro-rock and psychedelic soundscape: a sound and music ideology best described by the augurs of doom themselves in the album’s inlay card as “tent music for tent people.”



Probing a similar soundtrack, albeit in an unconventional sense of the rhythmic and groovy meaning, Joshua Abrams’ ensemble – the first in the group’s history to be created by a regularly gigging group of players rather than associated friends – fluctuate amorphously between freeform jazz, Afro-psych, Kosmische and the ceremonial: a place where the traditional meets the contemporary avant-garde.

An album of “pure motion”, the most “structured and thru-composed” yet we’re told, Simultonality has a dense, sophisticated, more cyclical than forward shuffling movement and energy to its five track panorama. Driven on, though not in the most obvious of directions, by a trio of drummers (Hamid Drake, Mikel Avery and Frank Rosaly) each track locks in to a hypnotic and often traversing loop. Numerous junctions grow and form from this trio of beat-makers to create subtle peaks of interesting rhythms. Dividing the drums, with Avery in the left channel and Rosaly on the right in some cases, and with each playing a specific part of the beat, as they do on the transmogrified Jaki Liebezeit famous Vitamin C drum break experiment Sideways Fall (each taking a deconstructed section of that original break), you can hear something that sounds both familiar yet abstract and slightly off-kilter: The title of that track captures the never-ending free-fall of this stumbling cosmic performance perfectly.

 

The album’s finale uses another famous track as a prompt for a flight of fantasy to take shape from; Alice Coltrane’s mystical spiritual jazz survey, Journey In Satchidananda, inspires the group’s improvised 21281/2 South Indiana peregrination. A reference to the days when Abrams was the house bassist for the weekly sessions at Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge (the address of which is used for the track title) At the end of the night as the band packed away their instruments and Anderson re-stocked the bar, the transcendental allure of Coltrane’s classic would be played in the background: the ideal comedown. In what sounds to all intents and purposes like a tune-up, as the musicians play around, the initial stirrings of this Velvet Lounge reincarnation slowly meanders and winds together to shape a meditative jazz odyssey, resplendent with a wandering, peaceable tenor sax performance from guest artist Ari Brown.

Elsewhere there’s the African flavor joint Maroon Dune that features a sustained lingering harmonium and sounds like Embryo’s Africa mixed with Brian Eno and Karl Hyde’s DBF collaboration; the Wurlitzer blaze of rotating intensity and heavy free-jazz orbital Ophiuchus; and the transcendental harp tinkled glide through a Nepalese water garden St. Cloud.

Abrams and his ensemble effectively combine old worlds and new: imaginary ones too. Borders crumble and influences merge, though the philosophical idea behind this album is to “help listeners achieve a meditative centre and to consciously use music as a gateway to living.” It certainly, even with the different dizzying drum patterns and density, entrances after a period; each track, as I’ve already mentioned, cyclonic in orientation, a cycle or in the case of Sideways Fall, a continuing drop that never quite ends.

Simultonality is a syncopation of ideas both sonorous and fleeting yet totally immersing. And perfectly, alongside 75 Dollar Bill’s harmonious offerings, suits the mood and themes of Glitterbeat’s congruous new imprint tak:til.





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