"When Jon Hassell coined the term Fourth World to describe his work, he fabricated a musical universe that new artists still call home. Melding the work of minimalists like La Monte Young and Terry Riley with non-Western folk, avant-garde classical and electronic, and early-70s electric Miles Davis, the trumpeter and composer arrived more or less fully formed in 1977 with his solo debut Vernal Equinox. Originally released on Lovely Music, the label most famous for putting out the music of experimental composer-performer Robert Ashley, Vernal Equinox condensed everything Hassell had to offer the avant-garde of the late 70s in a petri dish. Despite his future decades of evolution, there is an uncanny narcotic power and elemental beauty to that first record, which is now being reissued on remastered vinyl and CD by Hassells Ndeya records imprint.
Before releasing his album, Hassell studied for three years with the Indian vocalist Pandit Pran Nath. With his queasy and heavily manipulated trumpet figures, Hassell hoped to evoke the microtonal quality of Naths singing, but from the beginning, Hassell was careful to set his music apart from any discrete tradition. The records traditional folk instruments come from South Africa, South America, the Middle East, and elsewhere. The tambourine-like kanjira is the sole Indian instrument, turned to granular static by electronic processing (Hex). On opener Toucan Ocean, Brazilian percussionist Naná Vasconcelos introduces the primary rhythmic element on the albumthe congain its first moments, keeping time with a lengthy, repeated rhythmic pattern and a simple shaker. Hassells ensemble introduces electric piano chords, grainy samples of ocean waves, and other effects to gradually build intensity.
Toucan Ocean is the only song on the album to which you can reasonably nod your head. Hassells music often feels propulsive, but its rhythmic architecture is deceptively fluid and unstable. On most tracks, flurries of percussionsometimes acoustic, sometimes blurs of digital noisecluster together into little pockets of free time and chaos. Instead of providing the musics rhythmic backbone, the albums percussionists create ambient sounds that match the musics scrambled synth motifs and samples in importance. Texture becomes its own organizational principle; a slew of disparate elements combine to form one gently vibrating mass."