Bill Laswell – Means of Deliverance
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 “Epiphinea” 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 Failing 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 Singer album 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.