Bill Laswell has composed, performed, and produced just about every style of music known to manand a few more, too. In the early 1990s, in tandem with producer John Matarazzo (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Tito Puente, Manu Dibango, Fela Kuti, Sly & Robbie), Laswell co-founded Axiom Records.
Through Axiom and its subsidiaries (including Subharmonic and Strata Records), Laswell has explored modern electronic music, including ambient, dub, and funk. This extensive and kaleidoscopic two-CD overview of Laswell's work through this period, with John Zorn, Anton Fier, Nicky Skopelitis, and other world-class musicians, embodies Axiom's mantra: "Nothing is trueeverything is permitted.
"Everything is permitted except maybe editing. Three tracks on disc two clock in over sixteen minutes, while the repetitious deep space dub of "Asiyah Dub (Blinding the Starry Yes of God) on the first disc recalls an old joke about progressive-rockers Pink Floyd: Play anything slowly enough, and play it over and over long enough, and some somnambulant and cross-eyed stoner will eventually think, "Wow, that's profound, dude.
This anthology does deliver occasional glimpses into possible future musics.
"Morning of Balachaturdai by Painkiller (Laswell with saxophonist John Zorn and Mick Harris, drummer for Napalm Death) shoots out like metallic shrapnel the possibilities of combining free jazz with industrial hardcore. Its bass and drum crescendos thunder beneath Zorn's uncharted explorations, as he bleats through his own echoes like honking traffic in the supersonic passing lane. "Morning is almost a musical palindrome that doubles back upon itself, and definitely an instrumental freakout worthy of seminal jazz-rock experimentalists the Mothers of Invention. (I'd suggest that this style might be called "free industrial jazz, except the phrase sounds like it means hearing Kenny G piped in at the mall.)
The shifting cast of free funk-jazz ensemble Praxis, perhaps the most recognized of Laswell's myriad musical incarnations, includes Buckethead, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, turntablist AF Next Man Flip, and drummer Brain. Their groove-infested "The Hook explores tribal electronica, jabbed sharply with turntable scratches and a bass line dropped in from the planet of James Brown's "Licking Stick-Licking Stick.
The songsrather, the piecesseem programmed to progress through more and more abstract musical states. The ambient rhythm of "Dead Drop by Cypher 7 (Laswell with keyboard player Jeff Bova and guitarist/producer Alex Haas) is almost completely static, with synthesizer lines whistling melancholy as they hover in this grey rhythmic murk.
"Transfer Complete by Web (Laswell with ambient producer/DJ Terre Thaemlitz) takes the minimalism even further, a piece stripped of rhythm and of melody. It's not a song, not even music, but a soundtrack in the basic sense of the word "sound the sound of modern alienation caged in its human machine age.