Trumpeter Jon Hassell’s debut recording Vernal Equinox can be called many things, but nothing truly defines this landmark work. Recorded in a basement studio at York University in 1976, it has been heralded as one of the top 50 ambient releases, but it’s too involved and mesmerizing to be background music. It’s jazz…perhaps, if sonically modified trumpet can be called jazz. World music, certainly, with the heavy influence of Indian singer Pran Nath and Nana Vasconcelos’ contributions of percussion on the tracks.
Opening with “Toucan Ocean” where Hassell’s trumpet (sounding like a synth run thru a wah-wah pedal) floats over the sound of a tidal sea, and followed by “Viva Shona”, where his horn skips and flutters over the mbira of David Rosenboom and the talking drum of Vasconcelos. “Hex” lays out the path that Brian Eno (who wrote liner notes for this release) and David Byrne traveled on My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts in 1981.
Many times, reviewers, enthralled with some novel gesture or musical phrase too quickly champion a work as “nothing you’ve ever heard before” …but in the case of Vernal Equinox it fits. As with Hassell’s entire career, this is a work of breathtaking creativity, formed by influences both worldly – and unworldly at the same instant. From the strident, restless call to prayer of “Blues Nile” to the expansive title cut, this is a truly unique achievement. Listen on headphones and get taken away.