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Jon Hassell - Maarifa Street: Magic Realism 2

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Artist: Jon Hassell

Album: Maarifa Street: Magic Realism 2

Label: Label Bleu

Review date: Jul. 4, 2005

With his treated, harmonized, Kundalini-breathing trumpet lines tracing paths and trajectories through textured ethno-rhythmic geographies, Jon Hassell has been creating and exploring his own musical paradise since his 1977 album Vernal Equinox. After achieving some level of acclaim for his work with Brian Eno in the 1980s, Hassell has continued to work at the margins of the jazz/art music scenes. Maarifa Street: Magic Realism 2 is Hassellís strongest statement in years, pulling together threads from two decadeís worth of work to weave a cohesive whole, returning in particular to the ethos at the heart of his 1983 release Aka/Darbari/Java.:Magic Realism. Itís an ethos based on the idea of music as totem, as ritual and adornment; a construct of flat, shiny sonic surfaces that, paradoxically, through accrual of those aforementioned flat planes, takes on a sense of depth and density, of spiritual grace and mystery.

Among the touchstones for Hassellís work Ė some of them readily admitted to in the composerís own fascinating liner notes Ė are the ecstatic Sufi poetry of Rumi, the futurist/ utopian /psychedelic paintings of the late Mati Klarwein, the sensual dream world and seashell-to-ear breathiness of trumpet tone found in the mellower works of í70s Miles Davis, the castles made of sound created by arranger Gil Evans. (Indeed, there are times when Hassellís trumpet is electronically harmonized into a lush Evans-like brass section.) New here to Hassellís music, and very timely in light of current world events, is a fascination with Arabic music. Maarifa Ė meaning in Arabic "knowledge/wisdom" Ė is an actual street in Iraq and, as if to make a strong statement about Arabic culture, the appearance here of voice and oud performances by Dhafer Youseff offer what are perhaps the most overtly personal and emotionally expressive sounds on the album.

Hassellís other collaborators for this project do their work superbly, and some of those efforts are crucial to the way the music unfolds. Co-producing with Hassell, Peter Freeman provides an underlying architecture of synths, samples and percussion, and his rumbling, minimal-but-crucial bass lines are positively Shakespearean (Robbie, not Will). Rick Cox adds his textured and atmospheric extended electric guitar techniques: painterly scrumblings and washes, a few tightly-coiled funk inflections.

Like Jon Hassellís other works, Maarifa Street leads the listener on a drifting nocturnal pilgrimage through cities and villages of sound, both strange and, in a dreamlike way, oddly familiar.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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