Means of Deliverance Review by SonicScoop

Bill Laswell’s “Means of Deliverance” — Making a Groundbreaking Solo Bass Record

WEST ORANGE, NJ: It makes perfect sense that Bill Laswell’s place is on the bass.

Bill Laswell has blazed yet another trail with “Means of Deliverance”.

A mostly underground producer who occasionally surfaces in the mainstream, Laswell has built up what easily stands as one of the most diversified client lists in modern music. Over his career as a producer, bassist, and record label owner, his eccentrically successful track record covers everyone from Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop, Public Image Ltd, and Laurie Anderson, to Brian Eno, Bootsy Collins, Motorhead, Sting, and Carlos Santana.

And it was Laswell who co-wrote Herbie Hancock’s 1983 smash “Rock-It”, the unforgettable single that injected turntablism into the mainstream.

A man from the Midwest who became an essential NYC resource when he moved here in the 1970’s, Laswell has somehow managed to remain as mysterious as he is ubiquitous. Which brings us back to that bass – an essential element in Western music that can also go largely unnoticed if you don’t know where to listen.

Laswell has finally put the spotlight front and center on his four-stringed muse with the newly released Means of Deliverance, which stands as the first ever acoustic solo bass recording from this quirky maestro. Simultaneously introspective, surprising, and electrifying, Deliverance is a rare record in that it changes a little with each listening – you may not be able to hum along to this album, but once experienced, you just might wonder how you ever lived without it.

For Laswell, who lives in NYC and creates at his private facility, Orange Music Studio in West Orange, NJ, Deliverance proved indispensable as soon as he began recording it. “Once you start something like this, it becomes a musical statement and an obsessive endeavor,” confirms Laswell, who speaks in the quiet, even tones you would expect of a musical Zen master. “You have to be fairly obsessed with what you do – otherwise you’re wasting other people’s time.”

While Laswell has made a big name for himself over the decades, it’s been primarily via collaborations – with artists including Afrika Bambaataa, John Lydon, and even William S. Boroughs – that his reputation has spread. But he acknowledges that there’s something about the concept of a solo recording that holds its own appeal.

“It’s your own statement – there’s no conversation with anyone else,” he says of the artistic exposure that accompanies a solo performance. “You’re expressing where you are at that moment, which makes it challenging to the artist, and probably challenging for the listener.

“The other thing is that you can’t hide: If you’re with musicians that are very adept and virtuostic you can blend in with that, but in a solo situation there’s no hiding in the shadows. Whatever happens with a solo, it’s got to be very honest when it comes to the surface.”

Recording Bass at Orange Music

A cornerstone of Deliverance was Laswell’s instrument, a Warwick Alien fretless four-string acoustic bass guitar, which helped inspire the project. Even Laswell, with his deep musical knowledge, was unable to identify another solo bass guitar record in existence, meaning that he’d be 100% blazing his own trail as he tracked at Orange Music.

The Warwick Alien acoustic bass provided all the instrument sounds on Laswell’s latest album.

As an instrument with an especially limited frequency, especially with Laswell’s tendency to play in its lower register, recording solo bass comes with its own inherent set of challenges. First, however, Laswell, had to generate and perform the ideas for songs like the tense and haunting “Ouroboros”, the mountainous ramblings of “Buhala,” the medieval lullaby of “Aeon,” and the twist of “In Falling Light”, with its bell-like highs that expand the listener’s expectations of bass.

Winding together influences ranging from the East African lands of Ethiopia and Mali, to the blues to country and back down to South Africa, the result is an entrancing experience of bass that reveals something new every time.

“Music should come out of your life experience,” Laswell observes. “You should be able to translate that, and the more experience you have, the more you can build up your vocabulary, your language, and your improvised repertoire. And then the longer and the more interesting the stories become.

“When you’re playing these performances in the studio, you lose the other side of it,” he continues. “You’re not thinking about the recording environment, or the microphone. In terms of the technical, my approach was to play ideas and make sure it sounds good when you play it back.”

Towards that end, Laswell had the assistance of his longtime engineers, Robert Musso and James Dellatacoma. Working together at Orange Music – a 1960’s-era facility now owned by Laswell that had recorded the likes of Frankie Valli, Jethro Tull, and Humble Pie back in the day – the three-piece team prepared for the particular needs of a solo bass recording.

First, additional soundproofing was added to Orange Music’s spacious live room to minimize drive-by noise from the suburban streets outside. From there, they were ready to plug into Laswell’s go-to connection: an Aguilar tube DI. “We use that on pretty much anything that Bill plays,” Dellatacoma says. “It’s full, it’s loud, it’s warm, and it sounds great on bass. We also used a Neumann U 47, and we had just gotten these Cascade Fat Head ribbon mics, so I threw them up there to try it.

“I put the ribbon close to the bridge area of the bass, which is not an acoustic upright – it’s an acoustic electric which is played just like you would an acoustic guitar. I placed it about a foot away. I don’t know that it’s ideal, but when I mic a player on an instrument like that, I’m looking to get as close to the sound source as possible without getting in the way of how he’ll play the instrument in his hands. Somewhere between the bridge and the sound hole was where most of the sound was going to come from, but I also knew I was going to use a second mic.

“The Neumann was placed about a foot-and-a-half away, in front of Bill and pointing at his lower chest to capture the air and the overall tone of the instrument. In conjunction with the ribbon mics and the DI, the sound came together to form the record.”

Essential equipment: The Aguilar Tube DI at Orange Music. (all studio photos by James Dellatacoma)

From the microphones, the signal path of the U 47 and the DI led to vintage Neve 1073 mic pres, while the ribbon went through a Focusrite ISA828. “We wanted this to be a really clean album,” Dellatacoma explains. “We have a Neve 1081 mic pre that we’ll use with the ribbon, but if we turn the gain up too much we get noise. As the Focusrite gets louder, it’s a much cleaner signal.”

After the mic pres, all audio went straight into Orange Music’s Pro Tools HD3 system (running version 8), with a choice of Apogee or Burl converters, recording at 48 kHz/24-bit. “The bottom end was rich in this Warwick bass, and it was important that we capture that,” says Dellatacoma. “Knowing that this would be a solo bass record, with no other instruments, we had to capture as much low end as possible. This is a Bill Laswell record, and he’s known for releasing records that are full in the frequency spectrum – not mud, but low-end content that will sound good and feel good.”

Mixing and Mastering for the Low End

For each song, Laswell generally took a three-tiered approach, first recording a rhythmic riff, followed by an additional lead track playing off of the rhythms, and capped off by an ambience track played with an ebow or slide to create a drone. While some songs are spare, like the focused virtuoso of “Bahala”, others are much more dense, with as many as six tracks of bass happening.

While a good deal of the audiophile-quality recording of Deliverance can be attributed to the carefully crafted recording path, the mix also helped Laswell and his engineering team to make the most of it. At Orange Music, mixing does not take place in the control room adjacent to the live room. Instead, the faders are moved in a separate, dedicated room on the top floor of the studio (picture a Southwestern cabin with mirrors on the ceiling), where a Yamaha DM1000 32-input digital mixer and a Neve 8816 16-channel summing mixer are available.

“For this particular mix,” Dellatacoma says, “we wanted the cleanest signal path possible, so we just used the DM1000, because the 8816 is known for adding that classic Neve transformer sound. We edited as we went along. If parts were good they were kept, and if not they were muted. Bill’s style of mixing is very manual: He has his hands on the faders, without a lot of automation. So in Bill’s mind, if things are colliding or interfering, he knows what volume moves will work.”

Not surprisingly, compression and other processing were minimized for this naturalistic recording. “Rob’s theory was, ‘Let’s use as little processing as possible’, because we wanted a real clean, defined sound for this record,” says Dellatacoma. “We didn’t use a lot of compression, and we certainly didn’t use a lot of outboard gear, in order to minimize electronic noise. Any compression that was used was in plugin form, like the MCDSP Compression Bank, and the Fairchild 660 Bomb Factory plugin, but that’s heavy – when Bill is playing a dub-style bass line, that kind of compressor sounds great.”

“Means of Deliverance” is available now from Innerhythmic.

After Orange Music, the tracks made a crucial stop at TurtleTone Studio for mastering by Michael Fossenkemper.

“He does all of Bill’s mastering and he knows what a Bill Laswell record is supposed to sound like,” Dellatacoma says. “Whether it’s a full band or solo bass, it will have a rich low end that’s not thumpy or foggy – its defined low end. The low end is the anchor of Bill’s records, and Michael knows not to roll off too much.”

Wisdom of the Basses

Typically, Bill Laswell is not sitting still. Although the record was just released on his Innerythmic label, he’s already got his sights set on something new: a series of live musical performances set to a one-hour edit of the classic mind-blow film Koyaanasqatsi, originally scored by Philip Glass but now being reimagined by Laswell with the permission of director Godfrey Reggio.

Looking back at the landmark achievement that is Means of Deliverance, Laswell is sure of at least one thing. “What’s definite is that I can’t repeat that again!” he states. “It’s documented. So I have to move on and take it as a step that I’m moving forward with.

“I haven’t got a particular philosophy about this period or this work, but I hope it translates, because this is some real life experience moving out of the speakers: It’s a simple story that can be interpreted, reinterpreted, and carried on and on.”

by David Weiss for SonicScoop

Means of Deliverance Review in All Music

Quite literally, Means of Deliverance is unlike any previously released Bill Laswell date. Issued on his own Innerhythmic label, the set features Laswell playing the Alien, a fretless acoustic bass by Warwick; an instrument he’s never recorded with before. It also marks another first: the set is the debut production by his wife, vocalist Gigi Shibabaw (who sings on one cut). These ten pieces, while are all very different from one another, offer an intimate, immediate, and very creative hearing of Laswell, who sounds more engaged as a player than he has in some time. Some of these pieces contains songlike qualities. “A Dangerous Road” maintains a seemingly constant theme like a lyric line, though in truth, it drops out to be replaced by other interferences as a drone hovers in the backdrop. “Ourobouros” is a darker-tinged theme, where single strings evoke separate repetitive melodics, while played harmonics offer rhythmic counterpoint even as another, almost moaning sound shimmers in the distance. “Aeon” has almost meditative qualities in its minimal presentation, using restrained harmonies and drones, yet it remains quite musical and becomes more animated as it goes on. Laswell uses a buzzing technique on some strings to simulate the drone of a dousson goni. He multi-tracks his bass using different tonalities to affect a hinted-at lyric space between them, all the while asserting others. The dividing line in the set is “Bagana/Sub Figura X,” featuring Gigi. Her voice, with its otherworldly swooping and soaring, takes on a deep, blues-like character and that of a muezzin in an instant; Laswell paints the foreground and backdrop with deep tonal runs and middle-register syncopations, all the while using implied drones to complement the real ones real ones shimmering underneath. “Epiphaneia,” evokes the spirit of John Lee Hooker’s earthy droning blues in its opening statement, while the bassist plays around one of his low end pluck and improvises on the theme throughout to get both inside that sound and outside its sphere. Certainly it’s true that on the surface a solo acoustic bass recording may seem limited in scope and appeal. But the opposite is true. This is the sound of Laswell the musician fully engaged, creative, playful, and focused. His vast experience with world music traditions is displayed in his playing; he blurs boundaries between folk traditions both Eastern and Western, while getting to the common root of them all. On Means of Deliverance, Laswell is quite literally in direct communication with his Muse.

by Thom Jurek for All Music

Means of Deliverance Review by Exclaim

At age 57, and with a career that includes over 700 recordings in genres ranging from hip-hop to world to funk to metal and production and recording credits with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Material, Motörhead and, well, you can look up the rest, you might forgive producer, remixologist and bassist Bill Laswell for resting on his laurels. If his first acoustic solo bass recording (exclusively featuring his Warwick Alien fretless four-string bass) is a return to his musical roots, it also sounds unlike anything he’s recorded before. The debut production by wife Gigi Shibabaw showcases an intimate portrait of Laswell as a bass player and first and foremost, Means of Deliverance sounds like a love letter to the instrument. But this isn’t a wank-fest, since each of the ten pieces has its unique sensibility. The folksy Americana warmth of opener “Against the Upper House” celebrates Laswell’s childhood in Kentucky with a melancholic yet supple performance. The buoyant glide of “Lightning in the South” is coloured with an earthy blues tone, while “Bagana/Sub Figura X” incorporates an Ethiopian string sample and Shibabaw’s otherworldly vocals into a meditative, almost hymnal groove. It takes a few concentrated listens to sink in, but Means of Deliverance is an engaging and rewarding listen for those so inclined.

by Matt Bauer for Exclaim

Means of Deliverance, first ever Laswell solo acoustic record, available now



Innerhythmic Records, founded by musician and producer Bill Laswell, presents a milestone release, a rare return to the roots. In keeping with his distinguished career, Laswell decided to go solo and acoustic. Means of Deliverance showcases original solo pieces on an innovatively designed instrument, the Warwick Alien fretless four-string acoustic bass guitar. This work adds to an acclaimed catalog of forward-thinking projects and puts Laswell in touch with his foundational instrument.

Award-winning jazz journalist Bill Milkowski, who authored the book “Jaco“ on jazz icon Jaco Pastorius, summarizes Laswell’s project, Means of Deliverance, the latest addition to a legendary career. Attached below.

TRACKS (Click here to listen)
1. Against the Upper House
2. A Dangerous Road
3. Ouroboros
4. Buhala
5. Bagana/Sub Figura X
6. In Falling Light
7. Aeon
8. Epiphaneia
9. Lightning in the South
10. Low Country

Over the course of his illustrious career, visionary bassist-producer Bill Laswell has been one of the most prolific and restlessly creative forces in contemporary music. A sound conceptualist who has always been a step ahead of the curve, he has put his inimitable production stamp on a stunning range of important recordings by such stars as Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop, Public Image Ltd, Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno, Bootsy Collins, Motorhead, Sting, Carlos Santana, just to name a few. Probably most notable was Herbie Hancock, who co-wrote with Laswell the pivotal 1983 worldwide smash-hit single “Rock-It,” which introduced scratching to the mainstream, inspired a generation of turntablists and gave the great jazz pianist instant street credibility among the burgeoning hip-hop cognoscenti. Laswell’s sense of creative daring as a producer is further demonstrated on several recordings that have kept him on the cutting edge for over three decades, including Afrika Bambaataa’s collaboration with punk-rocker John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten of Sex Pistols fame) on World Destruction and PiL’s Album (which brought together an unlikely crew of Sex Pistols’ frontman Lydon with drumming greats Ginger Baker and Tony Williams, synth-pop pioneer Riyuichi Sakamoto of Yellow Magic Orchestra fame and rising guitar star Steve Vai). His spoken word collaborations with beat poet William S. Burroughs and expatriate poet-composer Paul Bowles have gone against the grain of music industry trends while his radical remixes (or re-imaginations) of landmark recordings by Miles Davis (Panthalassa), Carlos Santana (Divine Light: Reconstruction & Mix Translation) and Bob Marley (Dreams of Freedom) have further defined Laswell’s audacious m.o. as a producer.

As a player, Laswell’s bass lines resound with rare authority on groundbreaking projects by Tabla Beat Science (with Zakir Hussain, Karsh Kale and Talvin Singh), his avant-dance band Material, his progressive dub flavored Method of Defiance and the throbbingly intense power trios Massacre (with Fred Frith and Fred Maher), Painkiller (with John Zorn and Mick Harris), Praxis (with Buckethead and Brain) and Blixt (with Raoul Bjorkenheim and Morgan Agren).

In recent years, Laswell’s artistic reach has extended to the continent of Africa, where he has sought out “the new thing” in countries like Morocco, Senegal, Mali and Ethiopia, just as he did in the South Bronx some 30 years ago. An eternal musical renegade, Laswell has always played by his own rules. Eschewing standard music business models, he continues to call his own shots as a producer while pursuing a visionary path.

With Means of Deliverance, his most austere and personal album to date, Laswell pushes the envelope in a zen-like way. An intimate and revealing solo bass outing, performed entirely on a Warwick Alien fretless four-string acoustic bass guitar, it puts a premium on melody while tapping into some of Laswell’s deepest roots as a musician. “I think in this case, it’s about where you come from,” he says of his first-ever solo bass recording. “And you never lose that. If you come from a background where you hear country music, you hear blues and simple music, and you’re born with it…maybe you forget about it later on when you get involved with more complex or avant garde things, but it never really goes away. You just have to sometimes move away all the things on your plate and get back to that natural thing.”

In a very real sense, Means of Deliverance celebrates Laswell’s own Americana upbringing in a small town outside of Bowling Green, Kentucky. “I grew up in the country,” he explains. “I heard hillbillies play, and it’s different than hearing them on records. And it stays with you. You see the trains go by on the tracks and you realize people are poor and there won’t be anything else for them, and that stays with you. Many of these bands today are inventing images of these things. I actually was there, I grew up like that. So you have this thing deep in you and you play that thing of where you grew up. And it’s rich. It’s American music…Midwest music.”

Pieces like the Delta blues-infused “Low Country” and the melancholy but moving “Against the Upper House” exude profound feelings of Laswell’s rural Midwestern upbringing while his sentir-sounding bass playing on “Buhala” and “Epiphaneia” reflect his more recent interest in Moroccan, Malian and Ethiopian musics. On the buoyant “A Dangerous Road,” Laswell utilizes an Ebow to create a tamboura-like drone underneath his melodic motifs while he incorporates a sample of an Ethiopian stringed instrument on “Bagana/Sub Figura X.” Elsewhere, the adventurous bassist and improviser makes almost subliminal use of slide while also exploring bell-like harmonics on the bubbling, slowly insinuating “Ouroboros” and the mesmerizing “In Falling Light,” affects resounding upright bass tones on the sparsely appointed “Aeon” and strikes a surging vibe with muted strumming on the low-end groover, “Lightning in the South.”

“I found it to be kind of a folk sound, a country sound, a blues sound,” says Laswell of the richly resonant Warwick acoustic bass guitar heard throughout Means of Deliverance. “And I heard it that way. I didn’t see it as a virtuoso technical thing. I approached it more like Muddy Waters’ Folk Singeralbum or some Delta blues recordings by Son House. Those things, to me, are more relevant than fusion recordings or jazz recordings. It’s just simple music, simple statements and that’s the concept here. It’s meant to be minimal and simple, like a childrens song. It’s not meant to be thematic, it’s more like something you can easily relate to.”

Means of Deliverance stands as a crowning achievement for the prolific bassist-composer-producer and occupies a special spot in Laswell’s sprawling discography. “These kind of things take more priority because they’re personal,” he says. “And they have great meaning because you take the kind of devotion and commitment that goes into religion and you put that into each note and each chord. And that’s a powerful thing.”

Laswell’s solo bass showcase resonates with that kind of exalted power and majesty. “I feel very good about it,” he says of his work on Means of Deliverance. “It’s a simple statement that has a background…the background is how I grew up. It’s not pretentious or trying to grab anything technical or academic. It just has to do with impressions as you grow up. It’s music that comes out of a life experience, which is what it should be. Otherwise, it’s not music, it’s just some notes flying around. But this music is about feelings, memories, intuitions. It comes from a very real place.”

And you can feel that earthiness and urgency from track to track on Means of Deliverance.

-Bill Milkowski

Means of Deliverance Review by eMusic

Cerebral and solemn, yet oddly invigorating

It’s hard to imagine any musician holding a listener’s attention with an album comprised exclusively of acoustic bass solos, but veteran producer, remixologist and bassist Bill Laswell pulls off the trick nicely on Means of Deliverance. Laswell’s career has been a journey of bold steps, from his innovative ’80s dub/noise band Material to left-stream production duties with Iggy Pop, Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno, Bootsy Collins and Motorhead, to collaborations with William S. Burroughs and remixes of Miles Davis (Panthalassa), and Bob Marley (Dreams of Freedom). Laswell has followed a singular approach to fulfillment, his own music often cerebral and solemn, yet oddly invigorating.

Such is the nature of Means of Deliverance, with Laswell filling the album’s 10 bass solos with rhythmic, rolling melodies that recall Chinese folk songs, Native American chants, North African spirituals, the rambling rhythms of the Deep South, and all manner of blues, jazz, and even a touch of Jaco Pastorious. But at the center of Laswell’s music — from the harmonics bellowing “In Failing Light,” to the Sun Records pulse of “Lightning in the South” (which recalls Canned Heat’s “On The Road Again”) to the voodoo-calling closer, “Low Country” — is an undeniable sense of stillness that is both calming and eerily sad.

by Ken Micallef for eMusic

Laswell performs with John Zorn, Lou Reed, Milford Graves, and The Joshua Light Show

NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
566 LaGuardia Place
New York, NY 10012

The elephant in the room of musical ensembles, this combination of downtown legends convened by saxophonist and cultural catalyst John Zorn makes its premiere in front of The Joshua Light Show for an evening of historic proportions. Lou Reed, (whose experience with lightshows includes Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable) features on guitar and electronics, alongside dub apostle/bassist Bill Laswell and free jazz originator, drummer Milford Graves. Absolute giants in their field all four, the group’s challenging and rewarding sounds combine with the frenetic colorplay of The Joshua Light Show for an explosive, super-cinematic experience.
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Means of Deliverance review by Critical Jazz

Bill Laswell goes “Back To The Future” with an epic acoustic solo release aptly titled Means of Deliverance. Laswell and I share a common thread that transcends music. Both Bill Laswell and I are from Kentucky and while we have never met and in all likely hood never will, there is a unique cultural bond that ties people of this region together. I jokingly refer to Kentucky as the cultural black hole of jazz when in fact the Commonwealth of Kentucky is one of the cradles of pure organic roots music and this is the Laswell p.o.v on this release. To be clear there is no country or blue grass “per se” however there is an unmistakable soulful hybrid quality with Laswell’s compositions acting as a mirror image of the area where Laswell grew up which is essentially south western Kentucky. Music from the lower southern part of the Commonwealth ties people together through celebration, through food and through all the joys and sorrows that accompany the time spent on this earth. Laswell shares his prolific talent on a most unique four string weapon of choice being the Warwick Alien fretless acoustic bass guitar.

The results are stunning.
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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.
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Not for the faint of heart

JazzTimes calls the new album Blixt, from the trio of Raoul Björkenheim, Bill Laswell, and Morgan Ågren, “not for the faint of heart” in their March 2012 issue here.


Read a review of the new album Blixt, from the trio of Raoul Björkenheim, Bill Laswell, and Morgan Ågren, from Stereophile’s January 2012 issue here.

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