Bill Laswell - The Musician Becomes The Music
Laswell grasped all this with steadfast brilliance. Add to that the fact that the age of electronic instrumentation made it possible for the musician to discover ambient soundscapes far beyond conventional (and stubborn) wisdom. Bill Laswell wore all this like a second skin. He developed concepts to fit all these developments in the musical environment. His work with the amorphous and brilliant group ‘Material’ – most notably, the album, Hallucination Engine, is a classic testament. Ekstasis, with Nicky Skopelitis, was no less outstanding. Together, these two albums captured the symbiotic high ground that incorporated traditional styles of trance music, with new technology and varied musicians, expanding on existing traditions and styles to create a truly memorable and ethereal new organic electric trance music. His mind-expanding sonic architecture on collaborations with William Burroughs (Seven Souls) and with Paul Bowles (Baptism of Solitude) have taken the interaction, collision and collaboration of two creative beings to a new level of profoundly significant creativity, where the sum of the two creative geniuses is greater – infinitely greater – than the sum of the parts. This creative spark is to be found in his spectacular work with the Last Poets, on Oh My People and Be Bop or Be Dead, for instance.
Throughout Laswell’s excursions in to the ocean of sound, examples of his epic genius have been manifest. And whether he participated as a bassist or, more significantly, orchestrated the production of the voyage of discovery, he has left his indelible signature. Consider, Ask The Ages the late Sonny Sharrock’s tribute to John Coltrane, a feature that included Elvin Jones, Pharoah Sanders and Charnett Moffett, Ginger Baker’s Album project and his relatively recent Radioaxiom (A Dub Transmission, Bass: The Final Frontier), with Jah Wobble are also lasting testaments to his genius as both producer and musician. Actually, I should merely classify his role in everything that Laswell ‘touches’ as an artistic imprint. It is impossible to separate musician and producer with every Laswell project. Ever listened to Panthalassa – the Miles Davis remixes and then to a Laswell solo project, such as Hear No Evil and then tried to separate the musician from the producer? This is well-nigh impossible!
It is also impossible – and this is part of his genius – to find (and I hesitate to use the word) ‘a genre’ that has not been touch magically by the musical sorcery of Bill Laswell. Sometimes he even melded inspired funky grooves (Hear No Evil) and the electronica of our modern world (Tabla Beat Science) to put in a context that will be fresh until the time of our children’s children’s children! And many other times, he became the funnel for the myths, legend and history to flow through the spirits of other artists (When he produced Sonny Sharrock’s Ask The Ages excursion, or when he traveled to Morocco to capture the great storyteller, Mahmoud Ghania and jazz legend, Pharoah Sanders fuse ancient and modern wisdom on the hypnotic Trance Of the Seven Colors, or on Blues From The East, where the Chinese singer, Sola did much the same with the New York’s Last Poet, Umar Bin Hassan... to name just a few projects, from almost three hundred that Laswell must have been involved in to date.
But, I believe that his greatest achievement has come from an attempt to find the true essence of all sound, from its absolutely ancient origins in the cradle of all civilizations – Africa. In his classic rant on cross-cultural synergy, the modern thinker, Hakim Bey has set a blistering tone for all artistic endeavors. “The last vestiges of colonial-imperialist mentality cause us to mistake other peoples' culture for the raw material of our eclectic postmodern "mix." But in fact we're guilty of cultural appropriation --- or in less fancy terms, stealing from friends... We're interested now in de-centering the discourse and constructing a cross-cultural synergy. No more pyramids with Euro-males on top and "anonymous" voices from some distant Turkish radio on the bottom. Collaboration - not appropriation. Translation not interpretation. Life - not "lifestyle." Plagiarism as a cultural tactic should be directed at putrid capitalists, not potential comrades. "World" culture is either true co-creation, or it is nothing. Or worse than nothing: a sin against the Holy Spirit. There is no exotic other. Planet Earth - love it or leave it.” Bill Laswell’s musical excursions have always exemplified this artistic truth and tribute to the musical world that surrounds us.
YOU DON’T JUST HEAR IT... YOU FEEL IT