Perfect Sound Forever

Jon Hassell tribute

Jean-Philippe Rykiel
interview by Jason Gross
(October 2021)

PSF: What did you think of Jon's work before you met him?

JPR: At that time, I was going to my favourite record store about once a week, and on this particular day, I picked up this record, Fourth World, Vol. 1, which I thought was a Brian Eno album.

Back home, I was mesmerized by this deep and soothing music, and this strange instrument which I thought was a flute. It was later that I discovered it was a trumpet, played in such a particular way by Jon, and processed of course by his Eventide Harmonizer.

PSF: How did you start working with Jon?

JPR: My agent, Jean-Michel Reusser, who was still a journalist then, had known Brian for a while, but I don't remember exactly how he met Jon. He probably told him about a blind French musician who was a fan of his and wanted to meet him. Which was absolutely true.

So one day, Jon came home with some demos he was working on, and I Improvised something for him on my keyboards. He seemed to like it and called me "the electronic Keith Jarrett"- I enjoyed this surname a lot. LOL.

Then, he proposed me to work with him on his future album (Power Spot) which I gladly accepted.

PSF: How would you describe the way he composed and worked in the studio?

JPR: I cannot really tell you how he composed. That is something very personal, and I was not at this level of privacy with Jon to watch his composition process.

He was also a great and inspired improviser, and it's likely that some improvisations became tracks once they had been recorded and edited. When we recorded Power Spot in Hamilton (Canada), most of the music was already on tape and we were adding tracks to what was already there. As far as I remember, Jon did not record much during these sessions, but he, Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno were there to give us directions, let us experiment... you know... telling us what they liked, what we should develop further...

PSF: Did you perform live with him also? If so, how did that differ from how he worked in the studio?

JPR: Of course, most of my collaboration with Jon was for live performances. We did many concerts in trio format all over Europe with J.A. Deane (acoustic & electronic percussions) but also with Adam Rudolph (percussion), Goran Vejvoda (electric guitar) and sometimes with Michael Brook (electric guitar). I also must mention our sound engineer Thierry Guillemin whose work was essential. Touring was enjoyable even though rehearsals could be a bit tense now and then as we didn't always understand what Jon wanted us to play. I remember declining a US tour once but before and after this incident, we had a great time.

PSF: How was working with him on the Surgeon album different from working with him on the Power Spot album?

JPR: Well, to start with, Power Spot was a studio album, and The Surgeon of the Nightsky was a live album that has been reworked in studio from the concert recordings (all concerts were recorded). Jon selected the best moments of a number of gigs, added a few elements and processing. That's how The Surgeon... was born.

PSF: Did your work with him have any lasting effect on your own work?

JPR: I guess the most important thing Jon taught me was how to listen and interact. There were very few things actually written in what we had to play, a lot was improvisation but carefully shaped by listening to what the others musicians were playing. So really, the most important [thing] of all after Jon accepted me as a player, was to listen.

PSF: How would you describe him on a personal level?

JPR: He was not as peaceful a man as his music suggested. But he also could be an extremely funny man. We laughed a lot. I think he was a pioneer of what was later called "World Music." He definitely opened that door and he was missing - or thought he was missing - recognition and gratitude from other and more popular musicians.

Was he right? Was he wrong? I really do not know. Apart from that, he had a very tender and fatherly attitude towards me and it's been an honor to work with him.

See Jean-Philippe Rykiel's work at his website

Also see JH European tour photos from 1985, courtesy of Jean-Phillippe Rykiel

See the rest of our 2nd part of our Jon Hassell tribute

Also see the 1st part of our Jon Hassell tribute, with additional interviews and more

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