Two essential Jon Hassell archival recordings capture a genius at his creative peak

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Randall Roberts
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First-ever vinyl release of the artist’s Eno-mixed 1989 concert near the World Trade Center.

We’ve previously written about Jon Hassell’s legendary 1989 performances at the Financial Center in New York, the document of which we can’t resist embedding again because it’s just so brilliant.

As Tana Yonas wrote in 2021 of the three-night event with the Jon Hassell Group:

Filmed in what has been renamed as Brookfield Place but is still commonly known as ‘The Financial Center’ by longtime New Yorkers, the space was recently reopened after a series of renovations resulting from its partial destruction during the September 11th attacks.

The towering palms still stand in the atrium, and it creates a surreal juxtaposition with surrounding contemporary urban architecture. This sets an ideal environment to house Hassell’s unified primitive and futurist compositions. Eno had a hand in creating this maximalist vision and went as far as outfitting the venue with 200 speakers that night. Eno was also behind the board, carefully live mixing the entire performance.

Earlier this year, night #2 was issued on vinyl and CD for the first time. Called The Living City, its importance in Hassell’s discography is already assured. It arrives via Ndeya Records, “a label dedicated to the music of Jon Hassell.” Ndeya has released a steady stream of Hassell projects since its birth in 2017.




Per Ndeya:

“The Living City captures the Jon Hassell Group in September 1989 performing as part of an audio-visual installation inside the World Financial Center Winter Garden in New York City, with Brian Eno mixing the band live. Eno had designed an audio-visual installation in the 10-story glass-vaulted pavilion, inspired by the hunting, ceremony, animals, and weather sounds of the Ba-Ya-Ka pygmy tribe from Cameroon gathered by Louis Sarno.

Jon Hassell and his then band, the musicians who had recently recorded the City: Works Of Fiction album, played in the Winter Garden Atrium over the course of three nights, with Eno mixing the band live with the installation sounds.

The audio presented here is an edited selection from the performance on the second night, available on vinyl for the first time, cut across four sides by Stefan Betke aka Pole. Gatefold vinyl edition includes download card and extensive sleevenotes.

That last point is notable: mastering engineer Stefan Betke is among the best record cutters in the world.

This year Ndeya also issued a previously unavailable archival recording called Psychogeography. It’s a radical reworking Hassell’s 1990 record City: Works Of Fiction.




Writes Ndeya of the release:

“Psychogeography (subtitled ‘Zones Of Feeling’) is a situationist re-thinking of the 1990 City: Works Of Fiction album, a carefully edited sequence of alternate takes, demos and studio jams put together by Jon Hassell in 2014 using Debordian philosophy as his guide. 

This irreverent approach to the music reflects some of the key influences: specifically Public Enemy on the City album itself – Jon professed his love of the hyper-collaged sampledelic barrage of the Bomb Squad’s productions – and also the radical tape splicing that Teo Macero brought to his work with Miles Davis. The resulting sonic stew is a kind of futuristic sci-fi funk with an appropriately melted production aesthetic – instruments and samples jumping to the forefront then disappearing in the manner of the best dub records.

It, too, was cut by Pole a.k.a. Betke, who understands bass and dub on a molecular level.

For those on a budget, both new releases are available on all the major streaming services. Those who want a physical copy of both but don’t want to shell out so much cash — the albums run about $40 a piece plus shipping via Bandcamp — can secure them on Further Fictions, which Ndeya describes as a “double CD anthology of the music on the vinyl editions, with a disc devoted to each album in hardbound book style packaging, and an extensive booklet containing sleevenotes and archival images.”

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