[Review] Jon Hassell/Brian Eno: Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics (1980)

Primitive and electronic sounds combine for a new kind of fourth world ambient jazz.

Kronomyth 3.0: Eno silent way.

Possible Musics is the first in a trio of collaborative albums wherein Brian Eno merged third-world sounds with avant-garde music, Remain In Light and My Life In The Bush of Ghosts being the others. This is by far the less funky of the three, closer in effect to Eno’s Ambient recordings, although there is a slightly funky undercurrent to tracks like “Chemistry” (featuring Brand X’s Percy Jones) and “Ba-Benzele” (this time with Sonny Rollins sideman Jerome Harris on bass). Eno’s participation is frankly overshadowed by Jon Hassell, who does with the trumpet what Robert Fripp did with the guitar (occasioning me to refer to this music as “trumpetronics”), in effect turning the Western horn into an African instrument. Supple, liquid percussion from Aiybe Dieng and Nana Vasconcelos combine with minimal accompaniment from Eno to provide a sometimes shimmering, often mesmerizing backdrop for Hassell’s reedy, ghostly sounds.

Truth be told, it’s taken me years to fully appreciate this music. I tend to lump Eno’s ambient experiments into a separate pile marked “minimalist monkeyshines,” noting that I’ve since rescued The Plateaux of Mirror from the pile. Today, we’re pulling Possible Musics out of the pile too. That’s not to say that the side-long “Charm (Over “Burundi Cloud”)” won’t test the patience of some listeners, but Possible Musics is an interesting experiment in jazz, even while few dared to follow. If John Coltrane had lived to hear this music, he might have dug it. The subsequent Dream Theory and Magic Realism expand on the same themes without improving upon them, so listeners (especially those coming from the Eno side of the equation) may want to start here first.

Original LP Version

A1. Chemistry (Jon Hassell/Brian Eno) (6:48)
A2. Delta Rain Dream (Jon Hassell/Brian Eno) (3:22)
A3. Griot (Over “Contagious Magic”) (Jon Hassell) (4:00)
A4. Ba-Benzele (Jon Hassell) (6:03)
A5. Rising Thermal 14° 16’ N; 32° 28’ E (Jon Hassell/Brian Eno) (3:34)
B1. Charm (Over “Burundi Cloud”) (Jon Hassell) (21:24)

The Players

Brian Eno (background cloud guitars, Prophet 5 “starlight” background, high altitude Prophet, rare minimoog, treatments), Jon Hassell (trumpet, Prophet 5 touches, “Aluar” loop, ARP loops), Ayibe Dieng (ghatam, low congas, congas), Nana Vasconcelos (ghatam, low congas, congas, loop drum) with Michael Brook (bass on A3), Paul Fitzgerald (electronics on A3), Jerome Harris (bass on A4), Percy Jones (bass on A1), Night creatures of Altamira (A5), Tina Pearson (handclaps on A3), Gordon Philips (handclaps on A3), Andrew Timar (handclaps on A3). Produced by Brian Eno with Jon Hassell; engineered by Michael Jay.

The Pictures

Design by Cream. Photo of Jon Hassell by William Coupon. Photo of Brian Eno by Roberta Bayley.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in April 1980 in the US (Editions EG, EGED 7), the UK (Editions EG, EGS 107) and France (Polydor, 2335 207).

  1. Re-issued on compact disc on October 4, 1989 in Japan (Editions EG/Virgin, VJD-5009).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in 1993 in the US (Editions EG, EEGCD 7).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in 2011 in the UK (Glitter Beat).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc on January 18, 2015 in Japan (Rice, INR-889).

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