What is essentially the Memphis-born trumpet player’s “acoustic” album, Fascinoma proved to be one of his very best, despite having built an entire career of processing his trumpet through an assortment of otherworldly effects to create his signature “fourth-world music”. Hassell’s signature style is a mixture of his jazz background combined with his love for world music and experimental endeavors that first came to critical acclaim when he collaborated with like-minded producer/musician Brian Eno in 1980 for their album Fourth World Volume One: Possible Musics. This album stabilized Hassell’s and Eno’s stance as two of the most influential figures in the entire musical world of anything ambient-related, deservedly so. Hassell and Eno still continue to write and record to this day.
For Fascinoma, Hassell stated how he was inspired by his half-remembered experiences as a child hearing old exotica and film melodies on the radio and TV. This whole nostalgia stance on the album proves to pay off, for the music on Fascinoma comes off like an extremely surreal, fragmentary take on vague exotica melodies, complete with a deeply hazy and somewhat disquieting atmosphere, hence the quietness of every song on the album. One could call says it sound like Angelo Badalamenti recording exotica-inspired fever dream sequences for a David Lynch film that never got made.
The entire album was recorded in Christ the King Chapel in Santa Barbara on homemade analog equipment, which sounds like a little bit of an indulgent, audiophile-like move, but works exceptionally well for the atmosphere conveyed on Fascinoma. Ry Cooder produced the whole thing and played a warped, reverb-laden guitar on about half of the album. Hassell showcases some of his best, yet most discrete playing, often evoking the graceful sound of a flute. There was also an actual flautist present on 4 of the tracks (Ronu Majumdar), and he blends perfectly in with Hassell, the listener barely even noticing.