Means of Deliverance Review in Downbeat

[4 stars]

Many people who’ve heard the name Bill Laswell may have forgotten that his main axe has been the plugged-in bass, not the studio. With both hats, Laswell’s sonic vocabulary has transcended so many styles and idioms, he is without peer when it comes to not only production work but overall musical design and playing. Which is what makes Mean of Deliverance sound so radical. Here’s his first acoustic solo bass recording. Laswell’s excursions float somewhere between the meditative and simple folk material.

Laswell’s jazz cred is solid but only shows its face here and there as he riffs and improvises on the melodies he devises. The flowing “A Dangerous Road” is anything but. Built around a basic progression, this medium-tempo song allows for space and room as Laswell’s impeccably recorded bass roams, pauses, returns to the melody. “Ouroboros” carries the gait of a surfer tune along the lines of “Pipeline”, the song’s lilt furthered by Laswell’s adept use of harmonics and string pops, single lines wafting over the bottom not unlike the breeze or the sound of a car driving by an open window late at night. This all seems possible because Laswell can make magic in the studio but also because of his Warwick Alien fretless four-string acoustic bass guitar. From start to finish, Means of Deliverance has no overdubbing; perhaps an occasional loop with digital pedal.

The modal “Bagana/ Sub Figura X”, along with using a sample of an Ethiopian stringed instrument, presents Ethiopian singer Ejigayehu “Gigi” Shibabaw, her high pitch moving around and around Laswell’s ostinatos and filigrees like water over rocks in a stream. The album’s centerpiece of calm, “Aeon”, proffers reassurance and more floating lines.

If there’s a downside to Means of Deliverance, it has to do with stretches that sometimes sound more like sketches, the material mirroring itself from track to track. But Laswell also communicates real life here, full of memories and incredible ease and comfort.

-John Ephland for Downbeat Magazine