Bill Laswell - The Musician Becomes The Music
“ Throughout Laswell ”
New Age. World Beat. World Music. What have we here? Are these terms that the psychoanalysts may write in a prescription to heal the music industry sociopath? Are they what some of today’s musicians would throw as a sop to the industry? A musical cop out by accidental artists who believe that they are creating something new? It is more likely to be the industry’s way of allowing music that is beyond comfortable category to see the light of day, and then melt into the darkness of a CD bin somewhere in the corner of a record store. What a terrifying thought! One that is almost as scary as the visual shock of viewing a particularly schmaltzy painting of Senegalese drummers, or Celtic fiddlers in the dilettante’s drawing room to celebrate his eclectic lifestyle. Curry to the neo-colonial who has been going gray and insane, trying to count 101 beats played on the tabla or several more on a chatan, or trying to strike up a rapport with the Gnawa musician in a trance!
Stuff and nonsense, anyway you crack it up to be because the beat of the new age is far from fashionable, to be played between ‘regular programming’ for the creation of a media event in a living room. Ask Sola, or Wu Man, Zakhir Hussain, or Ustad Sultan Khan... Ask Maleem Mahmoud Ghania or Bechir Attar... Pharoah Sanders or Ornette Coleman. Or better still; turn to the musical projects of Bill Laswell.
Chances are that Bill Laswell’s conceptual excursions will point you in the direction of a musical stargate that will – if and when you dare to cross it – transport you to a cultural soundscape where the story of the world’s music pulsates like an ancient heart in a contemporary ribcage. And with dancing feet that whip up a visceral storm as it hurtles through the ages.
Laswell is transmigrating! This is more than a mere captivating idea. It is truly real. There is a veritable shape shifting of the human body and spirit as it transforms itself holistically until an entirely new dialect emerges in song, paying homage to the myth and legend in the story of the great civilizations – both ancient and modern – of planet earth. The mystical earth tones have been immersed in the twirl and whirl that beckon, unto itself, the true lover of music. Ah! Bill Laswell... A very rare artist – bassist and composer who has dared to abandon conventional occidental wisdom and take flight into the unknown realms in the universe of sound, to meditate upon ideas – with daring and originality – and consistently transcend existing boundaries of genre, geography, culture, and context, then meld his musical genius with the griots and musicians of this a world. And that too, where most artists fear to tread.
Bill Laswell has almost always been a radical and restless artist, with a mind that wanders like a medieval apothecary picking up and soaking in every element of civilizations long declared dead by the terrible mechanizations of the occidental world. He is a Bela Bartok with wings! An artist who has made it his mission in music to search for more spatial interpretations of harmony and rhythm.
In his early years Laswell toured the Midwest and South US with cover bands that played the R&B hits of the day by such groups as James Brown, Wilson Pickett, The Ohio Players, Temptations, and The Meters, among many others. Laswell’s instrument of choice – the electric bass – radiated with the funky grooves of that musical dialect. From R&B via country and funk to blues and jazz, Laswell continued on his fascinating voyage of discovery until he arrived in New York and fell in with the avant-garde set. The revolutionary musical expression of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor and Pharoah Sanders fired his imagination and search for cutting edge musical perspective and the artistic expression. Free and spirited excursions opened up a whole new landscape where tonal color and texture fused with the pulse (rather than the beat) of rhythmic adventure. Harmony and melody reinvented itself as a tonal whole, demanding quite a new concept in musical composition and expression.