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Old 04-11-2010, 06:21 AM   #1 (permalink)
Barely Disheveled Zombie
 
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Default Invisible Design – A Reflection on the music of Bill Laswell

I’ve mentioned around the place my complete adoration for the genius that is Bill Laswell. His ability to captivate me across his boundless exploration of genre (Ranging from rock to rap to dub to funk to world music to jazz to metal to avant-garde) more often than not leaves me breathless. Here I intend to go over many albums with the ‘Laswellian’ touch. He doesn’t need to be the primary name on the front of the album, and some of his production and back up albums will also be on show here hopefully.

Of course, with such a vast output, it would be the death of me to attempt to go through every single one, so I am going to start with some choice cuts and go from there and see how far I get. Not all of his stuff is pure gold as it might be with Dead Can Dance for example, but that comes with the territory of being involved in so many projects. I don’t plan on being chronological either.

So without further ado…


(BTW yes I did merge that General Music thread into my journal. Felt two projects at once would be asking a tad too much of myself)
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Old 04-11-2010, 06:22 AM   #2 (permalink)
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The Laswell Ladder

Obviously the point here is to order the albums from favourite to least favourite. I am not doing the reviews chronologically, so the order can be muched up a bit I suppose. Will be updated as we go along.


Last edited by Zarko; 04-23-2010 at 12:09 AM.
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Old 04-11-2010, 06:35 AM   #3 (permalink)
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I've never heard of this bloke before (probably unknowingly heard an album he's produced though), but that's what makes threads interesting! Also, discography threads rule, so I'll be looking forward to this.
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Old 04-11-2010, 07:15 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Arc Of The Testimony – Arcana (1997)

Laswell’s role: Project designer, Bassist (4 and 6-string, fretless), producer, songwriter

I have talked about this one to quite a great length in my previous journal; however, being such a seminal Laswell album for me, I felt it required a ‘refined’ look into it. Arc of the Testimony, Arcana’s second and final release, is really what put Laswell on the map for me. Initially discovered in my jazz fusion stage, this became an essential part of my catalogue, with Buckethead and Nicky Skopelitis on guitar, Pharaoh Sanders appears on a few tracks and Tony Williams on drums, his last outing. Arcana was a dual project of sorts between Laswell and Williams, both having a heavy hand in how it turned out. The Laswell and William aspects of the album, interestingly enough, were recorded in isolation and the other performers played over the top of that recording.

I’ve always looked at the album as a duality; Williams constant, semi-abrasive and profound drumming versus the airy, psychedelic feel that springs from the other instruments. Both aspects of the album are always fully realised, though they often work in isolation; neither overpowering, but never quite working in unison. I don’t know if this was an intended result, and I feel that it could be a side-effect of how the album was recorded. Indeed, the drumming aspect of the music does sound a little different in its production quality. This variation creates a sort of chaos that I love though; the chaos isn’t necessarily by the albums loudness or the fact that you are being attacked from too many different angles to make sense of it, but the freeform atmosphere of sombre deconstruction is lovely.

Most of the players are in fine form throughout the album. Skopelitis is a master of creating an earthy, solid riff that lasts throughout, whilst Buckethead brings his grinding skills and experimentation to the tracks that he is present in, which are pretty easy to identify. Sanders also has his occasional standout moments, particularly in Gone Tomorrow. Williams shows why he is regarded as one of the best, and although Laswell’s touch is often lost during the proceedings, the overall ambience is pure Laswell. The electronic ambiance used as a base is pure bliss.

Arc of the Testimony is definitely a standout in Laswell’s collection, though the odd recording style stops it from being perfect, even if it does add a chaotic layer to the music. There is always an underlying feeling of ‘this just feels a bit wrong (For lack of a better word)’. This was Williams’ last record, and it is a fitting finale to what was a great career, passing away before the album was released.


Experience it – 9/10
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Old 04-12-2010, 08:45 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Iron Path – Last Exit (1988)

Laswell’s role: Producer, Bass

I felt I may as well get this one out of the way as well, considering I would have talked about it sooner rather than later. Another Laswell album that influenced me far more than I felt it would when I first stumbled upon it post-Arcana. Last Exit was a predecessor of sorts to Arcana, in that the basic values remain the same. They both followed the jazz rock curve, though in a divisive variation; whilst Arcana was primarily a studio band, Last Exit’s magic was in was found in their live shows. Despite this, I have always been most fond of Iron Path, their single studio album. It is the atmosphere that becomes apparent when Laswell is given the opportunity to fiddle around with things that most attracts me, but the unrestrained ridiculousness of their live performances (Example here) is still replicated in a way.

Last Exit was a supergroup whichever way you look at it. The legendary Sonny Sharrock on lead guitar in his last group before his death in 94, Peter Brotzmann, the human machine gun on saxophone, Ronald Shannon Jackson on drums and of course, Laswell on bass. Despite being a studio album, Iron Path still bristles with energy, and is best appreciated loud. Detonator has become a stand out in this regards, raw and veracious, the plodding pace of the main groove overpowered by some truly sublime Brotzmann bursts and some maniacal Sharrock riffs. The sonic qualities of the studio are found in songs like Prayer and Fire Drum, which contain some ingenious dub/ambient moments. These are truly works of unison, which is sometimes befuddled in their live or harsher songs, as each individual is so unique and so good at what they do that aspects of their performances get lost.

A bit of information is required in regards to their live performances; the primary ones to look for being Koln and their self-titled. If you find yourself appreciating Iron Path, I really recommend finding these and at least giving them a listen. They are a lot harder to swallow than Iron Path is, but the reward justifies the experience. The live element adds another layer to the studio albums, which makes it easier to understand in the scheme of things.

Admittedly I have moved on from the overt LE adoration I used to have, but this album remains on top of most of the albums in my collection. It contains so many elements that I simply wasn’t able to find at the time period, whether it was the extreme free jazz mixed with punk-like aesthetics or an adoration of the complexities of the group combinations, I loved every bit of it.


A tough mistress, but worth every cent – 8/10
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Old 04-13-2010, 08:16 AM   #6 (permalink)
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As it happens I've only just started to scratch the surface of jazz this last week or so. It's the archaic stuff and worlds away from this stuff (and, I'd imagine, what's to come), but it's something I'm more willing to investigate these days (in the sense that scrounging the web for free MP3s can be called an investigation).

Gotta say I was feeling the Arcana track a bit more, in particular that airy, psychedelic feel you were talking about. Sounds like a pretty intriguing album of contrasts, so I can officially consider that album on my to do list. I liked the Last Exit one too but, as I say, the lighter feel of the Arcana one appealed to me more over the rougher edges of the latter tune. I'll probably end up hunting the album down all the same, as I can see both of them being good company for a sober night in. At least that's what I got from both of them.

Good start to this thread anyway. Keep up the good work eh.
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Old 04-13-2010, 09:05 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Inamorata – Method of Defiance (2007)

Laswell’s role: Project leader, Producer, Bass

Don’t worry, I promise something new coming up in the next review. This is one album that, on reflection, I judged a little too harshly in my initial review. At that time I wasn’t the type to really dig many forms of electronic music, and that has most certainly changed over the last year or so. The songs are really all over the place when compared to their rather straight forward Drum and Bass foundation, but that increases the intrigue of the package over having individual songs. Quite the intense beat for a Laswell project, he still puts a trademark dub-bish touch to everything, and the result after a little more exploration into the genre is fantastic.

As mentioned in my initial review, there are a lot of major players here; Pharaoh Sanders, Buckethead, Bernie Worrell, Bynard Lancaster, Herbie Han****, John Zorn, the Masada String Trio and Nils Petter Molvaer, not to mention a few others. In my initial review though, I never really ‘grasped’ just how well Laswell makes things flow in the songs. Perhaps it was due to comparing it to the few seminal electronic albums that I had, where the sound was focussing on a sonic and soundscape level rather than a beats once, but I really underappreciated the beautiful contours Laswell explores here. I still dislike DnB in general, but I –find this oddly appealing on so many levels.

The album does reach 70 minutes in length however, which is a little bit demanding at times, especially when songs consistently last 6 minutes or thereabouts.

Drum and Bass fans should appreciate, worth a go either way – 7/10



Nihon – Method of Defiance (2009)

Laswell’s role: Project leader, Bass

Nihon was recorded live in Japan, and it is a pretty big turn of events from Inamorata. Rather than a sporadic jumping between songs with obvious translation that is Inamorata, Nihon presents itself as a tighter construct, as one would expect from a live show that isn’t based on any pre-existing material. There is a consistent vibe throughout that evolves over time, but due to the live aspect it doesn’t really hold as much as the spatial production that is present on most Laswell projects.

The group of performers is shortened to Worrell, Laswell, Dr Israel, Guy Licata and Toshinori Kondo, and the sound they produce is altogether amazing. Some of the sounds produced add up to an alien atmosphere that is brimming with energy. Laswell on his synthed out bass during Method Plan One makes some ‘interesting’ decisions, whilst Kondo is in stunning form. Just thought I would point out the album for those that are interested. I haven’t really listened to it enough to make an informed decision.

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Old 04-13-2010, 09:06 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bulldog View Post
As it happens I've only just started to scratch the surface of jazz this last week or so. It's the archaic stuff and worlds away from this stuff (and, I'd imagine, what's to come), but it's something I'm more willing to investigate these days (in the sense that scrounging the web for free MP3s can be called an investigation).

Gotta say I was feeling the Arcana track a bit more, in particular that airy, psychedelic feel you were talking about. Sounds like a pretty intriguing album of contrasts, so I can officially consider that album on my to do list. I liked the Last Exit one too but, as I say, the lighter feel of the Arcana one appealed to me more over the rougher edges of the latter tune. I'll probably end up hunting the album down all the same, as I can see both of them being good company for a sober night in. At least that's what I got from both of them.

Good start to this thread anyway. Keep up the good work eh.
You might enjoy this.

Either way, flew through these posts as I have talked about em before, and will probably be posting the next few a bit more sporadically.
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Old 04-16-2010, 09:36 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Material – Intonarumori (1999)

Laswell’s role: Project Leader, Producer

Well, this is what Laswell turned Material into. In 1979 it was an obscure avant-garde art-rock/funk band, and come 1999 it’s releasing hip hop albums. I don’t know, your guess is as good as mine as to how this came about. Either way, that change is hardly an indictment on the albums quality. I was never the biggest fan of Material’s early days, and this album is a welcome turn of pace. It has taken me a while to actually get into rap music, and for a long time I simply never bothered with the genre as a whole. However, Rubberoom’s Architechnology and P.O.S.’ Never Better has certainly turned that trend around, and here is another album that has become a rap favourite.

In typical Laswell fashion, he has once again surrounded himself with a plethora of talent. This includes Flavor Flav, Kool Kieth, Killah Priest and Rem Ell Zee, as well as DXT on turntable, previously known as GrandMixer D.ST, and most of these are at their best. Most of the main rappers produce some good work, Flav his normally insane self, Keith at his best on Conspiracies and DXT reminding of why he is so highly regarded in the history of hip hop. The key to holding it altogether is Laswell’s dark and bassy beats, which are truly sublime at times.

The album does hit a few snags here and there though. Some songs linger around the edges and simply become an annoyance in the scope of the album, which contains 17 songs. I know Laswell wants to fit as much onto a single record as possible and he needs to meet the demands of the artists he is working with, but sometimes enough is enough. That said however, the album is still definitely worth a listen. There is some great work on here even if the album as a whole doesn’t work as perfectly as I imagine Laswell would hope. Despite the variance in artists he does do a great job of making it concurrent to an acceptable degree.


It has its moments – 7/10
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Old 04-16-2010, 04:29 PM   #10 (permalink)
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awesome thread. i'm really diggin' how you don't just praise everything and ignore the things you think are out of place.
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