"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Stranger OCTOBER 15, 2014 - by Dave Segal
CHRIS ECKERMAN'S GLITTERBEAT LABEL TO REISSUE JON HASSELL/BRIAN ENO'S FOURTH WORLD VOL.1
On November 21, Glitterbeat Records will reissue American trumpeter Jon Hassell and Brian Eno's 1980 classic LP Fourth World Vol.1: Possible Musics. Former Seattleite Chris Eckman, guitarist for veteran folk-rock mavericks The Walkabouts, now runs the Glitterbeat label from his homes in Slovenia and Germany, where his band's much more appreciated than it is in America. Glitterbeat has become a haven for adventurous sounds from around the world, but Fourth World represents its highest-profile release. As I wrote about Hassell in The Stranger back in a 2009 review of Last Night The Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes In The Street, "the most distinctive facet of Hassell's music is his horn, which variously emulates exotic birdsong and the cries of rare species of primates in the throes of woe, ecstasy, and Zen calm. Hassell has carved out a unique tonal palette with an instrument that speaks sotto voce in alien tongues."
Fourth World Vol.1 is among the peaks in Hassell's dazzling canon. Thirty-four years after its release, it still sounds timeless and placeless, a strange hybrid of cool jazz, gamelan, and otherworldly ambient music. Oneiric and psychedelic, Fourth World Vol.1 is a bizarre outlier in twentieth-century music.
When asked what the impetus was for him to get this important work back in circulation, Eckman said, "Glitterbeat is mostly releasing artists from Africa, but my personal journey into music outside of standard Western motifs began with Possible Musics. I listened to that album non-stop my senior year at Whitman College way back in the early '80s. From there I discovered artists like Fela Kuti and King Sunny Adé and so on. So releasing this album was really a personal thing for me. This album was the flash point that led me towards much of the music I am working with today."
What qualities of Fourth World are particularly inspirational to Eckman? "Well, for one thing, it still sounds so singular and out-of-time. I couldn't fully place it when I first heard and I still can't. It straddles genres and cultures. It incorporates handmade music and electronics. It sounds like the future and some sort of iconic, ghosted past."
Sadly, due to what Eckman calls a "terrible music-biz contract," Hassell and Eno do not hold the rights to Fourth World, so Eckman had to deal with the massive major label Universal to get licensing permission. "But Jon has been very helpful and did a wonderful interview with Pat Thomas, the reissue's co-producer, for the liner notes. We tried to get a hold of Brian, but failed."
Was Hassell surprised that Glitterbeat wanted to reissue Fourth World? "I wouldn't say that Jon was surprised by the re-release. I think he has a very strong sense of the importance of his work. I get the impression he felt it was just a matter of time until someone got around to reissuing this album and some of his others. Jon is a genius, and happily he is aware of that."