Sometimes music is meant to engage the mind; other times it is meant purely to involve the body. Some would argue that the best music does both, and there may be some truth to that belief, but the reality is that there is room for both as distinct and separate entities. While much of Bill Laswell's work over the past thirty years has been of a more physical nature, there's no denying that a lot of thought and effort goes into creating the sumptuous grooves and earthy ambiences that have typified his best work. In fact, Laswell's ability to create consistently engaging music that relies heavily on drums, bass and layered effects is nothing short of remarkable. In less capable hands the kind of music that is found on his latest disc, Version 2 Version: A Dub Transmission
would be simply boring, but Laswell manages to make a fifty-minute exploration of an almost singular, reggae-inflected groove compelling in its entirety.
Mining the psychedelic dub style originated by early reggae progenitors including Lee "Scratch" Perry, Laswell fashions six pieces that are strangely similar, yet subtly different. Jah Wobble's thundering bass lines and Abdou Mboup's deft drumming create both the rhythmic backdrop and the harmonic focal point for the entire disc. Percussionist Karsh Kale and keyboardist Bernie Worrell, along with Laswell's own guitar work and not-insignificant studio trickery, provide the "ear candy" that gives each piece its own sense of space and purpose.
And while the emphasis is distinctly on reggae rhythms, Kale and Mboup provide a larger world view, with tabla and more African-informed polyrhythms giving the compositions added weight. And that's a good thing, as the similarity in tempo that pervades most of Version 2 Version , with the exception of the more aggressive closing track, "System Malfunction," could be seen as monotony.
But the truth of the matter is that Laswell's music shouldn't be overly intellectualized; instead, it should simply be felt. In the same way as Brian Eno's ambient music is something that ought to be experienced rather than considered for harmonic flow and development, the trance-like nature of Version 2 Version: A Dub Transmission is more about a physical reaction. Close your eyes, shut down your mind, and the body will surely follow.
Personnel: Bill Laswell (bass, guitar, samples, beats, producer), Jah Wobble (bass), Bernie Worrell (keyboards), Karsh Kale (percussion), Abdou Mboup (drums, percussion), Chris Cooksom (additional beat construction)