Nov 15, 2012
“(Bill) Laswell’s pet concept is 'collision music' which involves bringing together musicians from wildly divergent but complementary spheres and seeing what comes out." – Chris Brazier.
If Bill Laswell excels in making music that uses a world-wide sonic palette, then his latest release, Means of Deliverance (Innerhythmic Records), represents a rare return to his musical roots. Armed with a new instrument, the Warwick Alien fretless four-string acoustic bass guitar, Laswell has released a solo acoustic bass album that sounds more like an early evening session on the front porch in middle America then the wild mix of dub, electronica and worldbeat upon which he has built a reputation. The music is deceptively simple, and far more accessible than the layers of sound usually associated with his projects.
Laswell is among the most prolific musicians and producers in the world, perpetually involved in projects that may take him literally anywhere in the world. Rock fans may know him from work with Mick Jagger, P.I.L., and Brian Eno and for his band Material; world music fans adore his work with reggae legend Lee “Scratch” Perry and with musicians across Northern and Western Africa. Jazz fans may be familiar with his collaborations with Herbie Hancock in the mid-Eighties. He also participated in sessions with avant-garde legends like Sonny Sharrock and Peter Brotzmann. Laswell has released albums of remixes from two of the most influential musical artists of the 20th century – Bob Marley (Dreams of Freedom) and Miles Davis (Panthalassa).
I spoke with Bill Laswell just after the CD’s release, and he was already on to new projects. He will soon be performing a new interpretive score to the classic cult film Koyaanisqatsi, originally scored by Philip Glass. With the endorsement of the film's director Godfrey Reggio, Laswell has composed his own innovatory score to accompany a one-hour edit of the original film, allowing the unique interplay between the film and Laswell live on stage. Click here for more information about the music.
Podcast 313 contains our conversation including musical selections from Laswell’s extensive oeuvre, including:
Bill Laswell - “Lighting in the South” and “Against the Upper House” from Means of Deliverance. Two tracks that showcase Laswell’s solo compositions and technique. They may seem like easy musical repetitions, but lead to hypnotic – and often moving - results.
Miles Davis – “Rate X” – Panthalassa – The Remixes. Laswell took Miles electric recordings and refigured the results on the Panthalassa CD, and then took it one step further when he brought in DJs to remix his remixes. “Rate X” was originally released as part of the Get Up with It CD that put together unreleased Miles tracks from 1970 to 1974, and featured Davis on organ (!), and an extensive rhythm section featuring electric sitar and tabla. The Laswell version has been remixed by DJ Jamie Myerson.
Herbie Hancock – “Rockit” from Future Shock. Criticized by jazz fans when it was released, “Rockit” became a seminal hip-hop track, at lease partially due to an innovative MTV video. Written by Laswell, Hancock and Michael Beinhorn, it is now recognized as the first charting single to feature scratching and other turntable effects.
Ginger Baker – “Under Black Skies” from Middle Passage. Laswell mixed African drummers (Ayib Dieng, Mar Gueye, Magette Fall) with the great ex-Cream and Blind Faith drummer and top bassists (Jah Wobble and himself) in this 1991 project. By adding touches of funk (Bernie Worrell), and jazz (Jonas Hellborg), the ending result is other-worldly. Laswell discusses Jay Bulger's documentary on Baker, "Beware of Mr. Baker," in our talk. That film won the SXSW Documentary Grand Jury prize in 2012.