Bill Laswell (solo bass) – Means of Deliverance: Solo – Innerhythmic INR 024, 45:02 ****:
(Bill Laswell – Warwick Alien fretless acoustic bass, e-bow, samples; Ejigayehu “Gigi” Shibabaw – producer, vocals (track 5))
Bassist Bill Laswell has been many things in his long involved music career: producer, label founder, collaborator, and co-creator of several different bands (Material, Last Exit, Praxis), conceptualist, remixer, and purveyor of Asian and Middle Eastern sounds. Laswell’s discography is huge and only some fans have probably heard most of it, since it encompasses diverse genres from dub reggae to hip-hop experimentalism, from power trio to ambient soundscapes, and Laswell’s catalog is spread across a staggering number of labels. He has worked with Laurie Anderson, Herbie Hancock, William S. Burroughs and Peter Gabriel, to name just a few. Now, Laswell has released something new and untried: the 45-minute, 10-track Means of Deliverance is Laswell’s first solo acoustic bass outing, issued on his own imprint, Innerhythmic. Here, Laswell utilizes the four-string, fretless, Warwick Alien acoustic bass (an instrument he had not used prior to this recording) to craft nine instrumentals, which often have a folk quality, albeit one cycled through Laswell’s particular muse. There is also one vocal song which features his wife, Ejigayehu “Gigi” Shibabaw, who also produced the material and did the cover art.
Laswell’s roots are rural: he was born near Bowling Green, Kentucky (but was raised primarily in the Detroit area). Until now, though, Laswell has not put much of his early countryside influences into his various projects. “I think in this case, it’s about where you come from,” he explains about his latest work, “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.” Listeners can discern those inspirations during the despondent and expressive “Against the Upper House,” which bares Laswell’s usually concealed feelings. In fact, Laswell’s private impressions are felt throughout Means of Deliverance: this is Laswell’s most personal undertaking. Laswell says the process of personalizing is nearly spiritual, “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.” There is a Muddy Waters’ element which permeates the groove-running “Lightning in the South,” where Laswell establishes a flowing vibe via overdubbing and a droning strum on his bass’ low-end. The varied tonalities, which are caused by Laswell’s overdubs, form a sense of lyricism; although the groove is inheritably the strongest component. The closing cut, the anxious “Low Country,” also has a Delta-suffused mannerism, explicitly distinguished by Laswell’s earthy nature and some slide guitar-like sounds.
The transcendent (or spiritual) characteristic is noteworthy on pieces which balance an American landscape stimulus with other traits. The jazz-tinged “Epiphinea” displays Laswell’s recent interest in music from Ethiopia, Morocco and Mali. The tune’s title seems prompted by the Greek meaning for epiphany: the word “Epiphinea” has a Biblical denotation to precise kinds of events, such as a manifestation of God to man, or Jesus to his disciples. However, “Epiphinea” opens not as a hymn, but with a murky vibrating blues intro, where Laswell manipulates lower portions of his bass, plucking and improvising on a theme, which gradually enters the jazz province. “Buhala” has a similar but more minimal arrangement which also hints at Middle Eastern timbres. The global perspective is brought home on “Bagana/Sub Figura X,” where Laswell employs an e-bow to fashion a tamboura-esque drone beneath his melodic designs. He also integrates a sample of an Ethiopian stringed instrument to provide another measure of otherworldliness. Gliding atop it all is Shibabaw’s multi-tracked voice, with ethereal surges and vocalized circles, which brings to mind someone reciting a prayer in a mosque or a temple, but with an underlying blues cadence. Other standouts include the unobtrusively hypnotic “In Failing Light,” which has singular affect triggered by Laswell’s resonant upright bass and a suggestion of vocal modulations buried in the mix; the sparingly engaging “Aeon” has a late evening atmosphere, where Laswell’s electronic background buzz endows the cut with an insect-like ambience. While it might seem a solo acoustic bass recording may be limited in range and interest level, those who hear Means of Deliverance will find the inverse: this is a wholly fascinating recording which reveals imagination, a somewhat affectionate temperament, and great attention to the details. If one immerses deeply into Laswell’s audio settings, the journey will be worth it.
TrackList: Against the Upper House; A Dangerous Road; Ouroboros; Buhala; Bagana/Sub Figura X; In Falling Light; Aeon; Epiphania; Lightning in the South; Low Country
A posthumous release of late career Bill Evans in SACD format adds to the formidable legacy.