pen·ti·men·to / noun
Reappearance in a painting of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and used as elements in a final composition.
Imagine it’s 10am, you’re on a hillside terrace of an Ibizan villa. It’s hot but not too hot, you haven’t slept, you haven’t needed to. Somewhere nearby familiar music is playing and you have a strange feeling of déjà vu like the missing pieces of a jigsaw are falling into place. Ambient jazz legend and Fourth World pioneer Jon Hassell returns with his first album for nine years. Fundamentally a jazz record steeped in polyrhythmic repetitions, the blissed out vibes of ‘Dreaming’ is like Groove Armada turned up to maximum chill where the gentle throbbing is like a comforting heartbeat; while ‘Picnic’ is more intense and organic, hints of Boards of Canada, where snippets of ambient somnolence oscillate like electronic droplets shaken from a digital tree, or magnetic waves at the shore fading into static. Having worked with everybody from Brian Eno, Bjork, Carl Craig to Talking Heads and Moritz Van Oswald, Listening To Pictures is the sort of electronic sorcery you would expect.
The eight tracks here follow transcendental themes. Technically brilliant of course. Compared to the likes of Forest Swords, Oneohtrix Point Never or Four Tet, at its loosest Listening To Pictures is free enough to be original while structured enough to be bearable. Jazz elements are incorporated into something not just zeitgeist chasing but incredible to listen to (the intermittent train track groove of ‘Slipstream’ or the hints of electric guitar drifting in and out on ‘Manga Scene’). Setting himself apart from the uber-cool competition, 81 year-old Hassell (he calls it vertical listening) makes it all sound breathtakingly easy and futuristic but also as if evolving from a non-specific point in the past others can only grasp at (pentimento).
The synth flourishes and spectral messiness on ‘Al Kongo Udu’ is like spinning backwards and forwards through radio frequencies before settling on the most beatific of rhythms. ‘Her First Rain’ is a sentimental snippet featuring barely anything but wind chimes and subtle piano. Wistful brilliance. Another is built on fast rim shots, layers of piano, organ and synth existing somewhere at the experimental end of Blue Note. To the layman it’s chillout music for the heaviest of comedowns but delve in and there is an edginess to the dark electronica of closer ‘Ndeya’ that brings together everything that has gone before. Avant-garde, noir at times, tactile and musically free like the jazz club at the end of the world waiting room.
And while the pentimento sentiment may refer to a man consciously edging towards the end of an incredible career the fact it is listed as volume one suggests he’s not finished yet.
Listening To Pictures Volume 1 is released on July 8th through Ndeya.