Laswell solo, at last — Review by Mingus Lives

Solo bass recordings are one of the most fearsome things on the musical market… usually because they’re so uninteresting, poorly recorded and monotonous. There are a few absolute masters of the craft, Dominic Duval standing out foremost in my mind. To the tiny pantheon we can now add Bill Laswell, who has just issued his first solo bass recording, Means of Deliverance, on the Innerhythmic label.

This new album is as much a full-length advertisement for the new Warwick Alien fretless acoustic bass guitar (shown below) as it is another triumph for Laswell, whose massive list of credits includes recordings and tours with John Zorn, Herbie Hancock, Curlew, Public Image Ltd. (that’s his bass on the smash hit “Rise”), Pharoah Sanders, Material, Napalm Death, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Praxis, the Golden Palominos, Ginger Baker and Otomo Yoshihide. The new Warwick bass is revealed, under the hands of the master, to possess a tremendous tone that perfectly balances upright depth with bass-guitar resonance. As a bassist I’m excited to try one of these suckers myself.

But it’s Laswell’s flawless technique and expansive imagination that sell the product. His skill with chords, harmonics, multiple rhythms and effects are whirred together in a dizzying display of vitality throughout Means of Deliverance. He is gifted and creative enough to keep this ten-track album from sounding like one long, repetitive composition as some solo artists are wont to do. Sure, there are a handful of spots (the slightly monotonous “In Falling Light”) where one begins to long for another voice in the mix. But these are few and far between, more than balanced by the sheer virtuosity and hypnotic depth of Laswell’s vision.

Aside from one or two samples, the only other person on the recording is Ethiopian-born vocalist Gigi Shibabaw, Laswell’s wife, who has appeared on some of his past projects and productions (Buckethead’s Enter the Chicken, for one). Her bright, soulful voice is central to “Bagana/Sub Figura X”, flitting over and through Laswell’s throbbing, buzzing pulses. “Lightning in the South” has a heavy groove to it that would probably fill out as a great addition to the Praxis (Laswell/Buckethead/Brain) repertoire, but it’s tense and exciting on its own.

Both upright players and bass guitarists will find a lot to love on this new disc, as will Laswell’s regular contingent of fans. It exposes some different facets of the man and will stand as one of the better solo recordings of the era.

Review by Mingus Lives