“Beauty in Darkness”: Ethereal cosmic jazz from Patrick O’Hearn (ex-Zappa & Missing Persons)

By on January 17, 2019

“A fascination with the eternal truth permeates New Age music…” Night Flight’s announcer Pat Prescott tells us in our “Take Off to New Age,” which first aired on October 22, 1988, and you can now find streaming on Night Flight Plus.

We can’t think of better way to take a dive deep into dark, eternal truths than to revisit Patrick O’Hearn’s “Beauty in Darkness,” one of the great music videos featured in this nearly-hour long episode, so… turn off your mind, relax and float downstream….

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Ms. Prescott again: “Patrick O’Hearn developed his ethereal cosmic jazz playing with Frank Zappa, Missing Persons and Tony Williams. O’Hearn resists the new age label, yet admits that it effects the imagination.”

O’Hearn says he hadn’t ever heard the term “new age” until he saw it on the bin card where record store clerks filed his music.

“Beauty in Darkness” first appeared on his 1985 debut solo album Ancient Dreams, released on Private Music, a new age label founded by ex-Tangerine Dream keyboardist Peter Baumann.

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“Freff,” a contributing editor for Musician Magazine, wrote the following about O’Hearn’s music in the album’s original liner notes:

“Music wears a thousand masks, and exists for a million reasons. It reaches our heads, hearts, and our bodies. It can be gentle, pleading, angry, demanding, healing: as fierce as fire and as cold and dangerous as thin ice. It is so many things because we are so many things, inside. The most special music reflects our private selves.”

“Patrick O’Hearn’s Ancient Dreams is a journey through the shifting, heartfelt audio landscape. It sheds light in many ways and touches secret places. Cool and elegant one moment, thundering and majestic the next, (with a dynamic and timbral range impossible to capture with anything less than stage-of-the-art digital synthesis and recording), it explores a path that will carry you deeper with each listening.”

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Ancient Dreams — mostly recorded at Westlake Studios in Los Angeles — is today considered an all-time classic in contemporary electronic music.

While a lot of vintage ’80s new age recordings end up sounded dated, O’Hearn’s dark and mysterious bass, percussion and synth-driven compositions all have a strong melodic sensibility about them.

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L.A. Times critic Don Heckman — in his review of O’Hearn’s live club showcase at the Roxy Theater on Monday, August 15, 1988 — described how O’Hearn’s “smooth surface of the largely electronic sounds covered a roiling undercurrent of energy.”

Heckman further described how O’Hearn’s band introduced “a deceptively meditative cover into an arena of sparkling dissonances and turbulent rhythms.”

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Another title on Ancient Dreams — “Malevolent Landscape” — also offers a clue as to the foreboding vibe O’Hearn was going for.

“Beauty in Darkness” features filmed footage, in marvelous magentas and brilliant blues, showing active volcanic sites and cliffside ocean settings exploding as lava pours into churning waves.

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Over these images we see superimposed visions of ancient masks disappearing into our sub-consciousness, offering up a visible depiction of Joseph Campbell’s idea in The Hero with a Thousand Faces that all religions of the world express the various culturally-influenced “masks” of the same fundamental, transcendent eternal truths.

Campbell quotes from the Rigveda, an ancient Indian collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns, saying: “Truth is one, the sages speak of it by many names.”

Read more about Patrick O’Hearn below.

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Patrick O’Hearn circa Ancient Dreams

Patrick O’Hearn (b. 1954) — described by the All Music Guide as “an unlikely new age stalwart and musical renaissance man” — was raised in Oregon by parents who were both working musicians.

O’Hearn studied the cello, violin, and flute, and played bass in his parents’ lounge act, but by the early ’70s he’d also become fascinated with collecting electronic instruments.

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He studied briefly at the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Washington, as well as taking private lessons with bassist Gary Peacock before moving to San Francisco, where he was involved in the city’s vibrant jazz scene, playing bass with legendary jazz musicians like Charles Lloyd, Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon, Joe Pass, Woody Shaw, Eddie Henderson, and Bobby Hutcherson.

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Frank Zappa with Ray White, Patrick O’Hearn, Lady Bianca, Eddie Jobson and Terry Bozzio

Eventually, O’Hearn joined Frank Zappa’s band as his bassist, a position he held between the years 1976-1978.

O’Hearn plays on Zappa’s Zoot Allures and Tinsel Town Rebellion albums, and also appears in the movie Baby Snakes (1979).

Zappa encouraged O’Hearn to explore making electronic music as a solo artist, as well as showing him studio engineering techniques like tape editing (prior to the use of computers).

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O’Hearn also formed the contempo jazz combo Group 87 — with musician friends Mark Isham (trumpet) and Peter Maunu (guitar) — influenced by Weather Report, Kraftwerk and the ambient minimalism of Brian Eno.

They released two albums, Group 87 (1980) — featuring guest appearances by Zappa alums Terry Bozzio and Peter Wolf — and A Career In Dada Processing (1984).

Isham and Maunu would continue to work on O’Hearn’s solo releases as valued collaborators.

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In 1980, O’Hearn became an original member of the L.A.-based new wavers Missing Persons, which also featured ex-Zappa guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, keyboardist Chuck Wild, and drummer Terry Bozzio and his then-wife, vocalist Dale Bozzio.

O’Hearn played on three albums Missing Persons — Spring Session M (1982), Rhyme & Reason (1984), and Color In Your Life (1986) — released on Capitol Records.

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Our intergalactic new age sojourn also features music videos by Andreas Vollenweider & Friends, David Orr, David Van Tiegham, Eddie Jobson, Kitaro, Philip Glass, Michael Manring, Mark Isham, Yanni, Acoustic Alchemy and Ravi Shankar.

Watch Night Flight’s “Take Off to New Age” on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.