Any day of the year is ideal for listening to Jon Hassell’s music, but seeing as today marks the vernal equinox, you might as well listen to his 1978 debut album marking this auspicious occasion. Vernal Equinox isn’t Hassell’s best full-length—that would be Dream Theory in Malaya—but it is another exquisitely wrought example of the trumpeter’s unique expression of eerie and exotic ambience that he termed Fourth World music.
The opening track “Toucan Ocean” is one of the most haunting and beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. Throughout Vernal Equinox, you can hear how Hassell’s study of Indian Kirana vocal technique with Pandit Pran Nath led to his distinctively mellifluous and distortedly avian/animalistic trumpet sound. Shakers, rattles, mbira, tabla, dumbek, congas, and David Rosenboom’s “Buchla Synthesizer alteration” form a humid, twitchy jungle bed of activity over which Hassell’s itinerant trumpet emanations unpredictably waft. Ambient-music pioneer and Hassell collaborator Brian Eno spoke highly of the record in The Guardian: "This record fascinated me. It was a dreamy, strange, meditative music that was inflected by Indian, African and South American music, but also seemed located in the lineage of tonal minimalism. It was a music I felt I'd been waiting for."
In a 2009 review of Hassell’s late-era masterpiece, Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes, I wrote, “Hassell has carved out a unique tonal palette with an instrument that speaks sotto voce in alien tongues.” Vernal Equinox is where that talent first punctured the public consciousness, and it remains a crucial part of this singular musician’s canon.