The Times JULY 19, 2021 - by Staff Writers


Trumpeter who worked with Brian Eno and was known for blending elements of many cultures to create 'Fourth World' music

When Jon Hassell found that none of the recognised genres of music described what he did, he invented his own, naming his unique form of sonic adventure 'Fourth World' music or sometimes "coffee-coloured classical music of the future". If you pressed him for a more precise definition, he would say that he made "a unified primitive/futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques".

His instrument was the trumpet but that was merely the starting point for the twenty influential albums he made as a band leader. On them he used strings, synthesizer, samples, distorted guitars, disembodied voices and more to create a dazzling mélange that blended elements of classical, electronic, avant garde, ambient, jazz and world music.

The sound was far too experimental for mainstream success but Hassell became a revered presence in modern composition. Lauded as an influence by everyone from Björk to Bono, he played on records by commercially successful artists such as Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, k.d.lang and Tears For Fears and was a regular performer on the recordings of Brian Eno and Ry Cooder. He composed for string quartets, worked with the composers Terry Riley and La Monte Young and collaborated with musicians from Africa, South America and India.

"He looks at the world in all its momentary and evanescent moods with respect and this shows in his music. He sees dignity and beauty in all forms of the dance of life," Eno wrote in The Guardian in 2007. The pair first collaborated in 1980 on Fourth World Volume 1: Possible Musics, a seminal album that combined ethnic musical styles from around the world with tape loops and synths to reflect what Eno called "a globalised world constantly integrating and hybridising". It turned Hassell into the godfather of world music fusion, although, as western musicians sampled African and Indian music without offering credit or payment, he disowned much of what followed. It was, he complained, not only "the banalisation of the exotic" but cultural appropriation of the most exploitative kind.

Such high-minded purism led to a temporary falling-out with Eno and his friend David Byrne of Talking Heads in 1981 over My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, which included everything from Algerian Muslims chanting from the Quran to an exorcism. Hassell was initially part of the project but withdrew, saying that the results were "too poppy" and the methodology was "unethical".

They resumed their partnership on Hassell's 1986 album Power Spot, finding common cause in an approach that combined music's cerebral and carnal impulses, as ideas "formatted by language and located in the head" were fused with "the area of wildness and sensuality below the waist where dance and procreation reigns".

Jon Hassell was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in March 1937. His father was a scientist who had played the cornet in a college band. "He used to bring it out and play one or two tunes. When it came time to study music at school, that was what was around the house, so I picked it up," Hassell said.

He played "Glenn Miller-type stuff" in big bands and earned a master's degree in modern classical composition at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where he met his wife, the pianist Katrina Krimsky. Their marriage ended in divorce in the late 1960s and he is survived by his partner De Fracia Evans, whose mixed African-American and Native-American origins led him to call their relationship "a bit of Fourth World on a personal level".

To avoid being drafted to fight in Vietnam, he joined the army band in Washington and then got a grant to study for two years under Karlheinz Stockhausen at the Rheinische Musikschule in Cologne. His fellow students included like-minded spirits Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt, who went on to found the German group Can. Hassell livened up their studies with quantities of LSD from Amsterdam.

Back home Hassell played on the original recording of Riley's In C, a landmark in the development of minimalism, and travelled to India to study Indian classical music with the singer Pandit Pran Nath.

Adapting the techniques of raga to his trumpet playing led to his first solo album, Vernal Equinox (1977), on which he began to map out the hybrid style he would call Fourth World. His aim, he said, was to make music in which it was impossible "to pick a single element out as being from a particular country or genre".

Jon Hassell, musician, was born on March 22, 1937. He died after a period of ill health on June 26, 2021, aged eighty-four