Jon Hassell â€“ Maarifa Street: Magic Realism 2 / 2005 Nyen / 7 Tracks / http://www.maarifastreet.com / http://www.takticmusic.com / Reviewed 18 May 2005
â€œMaarifa Streetâ€ starts out with â€œDivine S.O.S.â€, a track that seems just as influenced by jazz reminiscing on the Pink Panther theme as it is by ancient East Asian sounds. Each of the tracks on this disc are given the proper time by Hassell, with the average run-time of eight and a half minutes not stretching nor unnecessarily compressing the track. The title track is much of the same, albeit a little more upbeat. The nature of the tracks, which are instrumental to provide a vocal influence with differing instrumentation, is perhaps one of the discâ€™s lasting legacies. The slightly more electronic sound of â€œMaarifa Streetâ€ really opens the track up and allows a chance of anything to happen. Calling down the spirit of both Vangelis and Wendy Carlos, Hassell infuses each of the tracks with a humanity that was lacking in the formerâ€™s constructs.
The tension that is cultivated and sponsored by the increasing tempo of a track like â€œWarm Shiftâ€ continues the interest one can feel with this disc, and it is during that track that â€œMaarifa Streetâ€ really is shown to be a number of variations on a common theme. The greatest leap forward on the disc happens during â€œOpen Secret (Paris)â€, in that Hassell uses Ohafer Youssefâ€™s vocals in a day that straddles the line between instrumental and vocal. It takes a listener much more that a shallow listen to â€œMaarifa Streetâ€ that one can actually decide that what they are hearing is actually a set of vocals. The bass laid down by Peter Freeman on â€œNew Godsâ€ is perhaps the most emotive that the disc gets; using a chunky and ever-present style, the bass adds a low end to the track and really refreshes the palette after the same general song structure and sound has dominated the disc up to this point.
The bass maintains its relevance during â€œDarbari Bridgeâ€, which uses a more tribal style of drumming (graciously provided this time by Abdou Mboup) that couples well with the bassâ€™s low tones. Jon Hassell has an ambitious work here in Maarifa Street, and while it may be easier to digest than most thematic albums, it is not an album one can go and do a workout with. Still, the attentive nature of Hassell, always cognizant of the arrangements on the disc, provides listeners with an impetus to listen through to the end.
Top Track: New Gods, Maarifa Street