John Hassell – Dream Theory in Malaya

Album Review | Glitterbeat | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 3/5

To listen to a reissue of Jon Hassell’s seminal 1981 Dream Theory in Malaya album is to realise how fine it sounds, how little it has dated and how much it sounds like music that was to come after it.  The strange mystical blown tones of Hassell’s compressed, pitch shifted and layered trumpet inhabit the same sonic world as late period Japan and David Sylvian.  Looped voices and sounds connect to Jean Michel Jarre’s mid 80s album Zoolook.  There is the same sense of glimpsed music from another culture that permeates Peter Gabriel’s instrumental soundtrack albums for Birdy and The Last Temptation of Christ.  Jon Hassell himself talks of trying to conjure musical soundscapes that were indeterminate, that could have existed, rather than being evocations of actual places.  Opening track “Chor Moire” a cut up of chorused trumpets, looped and live is still a difficult listen, an interesting experiment, a lively texture rather than immersive experience.  “Courage”, although only slightly longer, stretches out, with its frenetic quasi Polynesian drum choruses looping behind Hassell’s eldritch trumpets, heralds from another world.  Few people beyond Miles Davis, have a signature sound that is rich so evocative and so uniquely their own.  Dream Theory predicts the ambient House music of The Orb and The KLF by under pinning the loops, ambience and blown sounds with a huge pulsing reggae Bass beat.  “Datu Bintung at Jelong” features a pulsing loop as rhythmic as a Steve Reich or Philip Glass piece in a kind of call and response with Hassell’s otherworldly insistent trumpet choruses, becoming hypnotic over its length.  Malay with its sparser intro of gongs, sampled birdsong and a wonderful animal call like trumpet is probably the most accessible track on the album.  A beautiful water splash rhythm, sampled off a record of BBC recordings made during the Queens tour of the commonwealth, adds a warm and worldly bottom note to the decidedly otherworld calls being played by Hassell.  The overall effect is wonderful and a centrepiece to the album.  “These Times” is a series of sketches as hazy as an early morning awakening in a humid tropical paradise.  Ambient sounds, instruments blown on the breeze through an open breeze.  A new age meditation CD filtered through some kind of humid fever dream, it is as soft and shifting as the previous two tracks are rhythmic and hypnotic.  “Ordinary Mind” with its deceptive title, is a bonus track for this reissue.  Samples of a chorus of chanting echoed voices phase with distorted waves that could be distant wind or water on an empty beach.  Another beautiful slice of slowly shifting ambience it is a sonic holiday postcard from another dimension, a gentle end to a wonderful album as we walk slowly up a beach.  After Jon Hassell, post jazz Norwegian trumpet players Arve Henriksen and Nils Petter Molvaer have developed voices that while filtered through their home landscapes own a sonic debt to Hassell’s tunings and eerie sound.  Both through collaboration and through influence, Brian Eno, The Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, David Sylvian, Japan, Bjork, Ry Cooder, Ani DiFranco, huge swathes of the ECM stable of artists and numerous others are indebted to the sound and music of Jon Hassell.  Much mainstream music from the early 80s sounds dated, Dream Theory in Malaya, a postcard from another dimension, at times difficult at times sublime sounds fresh and exciting.