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Jazz - Released December 3, 1997 | Columbia

Is it a form of creative blasphemy to alter not only the sequence but the sound of masterworks past? In music, though, the ends quite often justify the means, and grandmaster-mixer Bill Laswell did an undeniably haunting job of reconstructing swatches of Miles Davis' amazing electric music for acid jazz-mutated ears in 1998. Of course, Laswell could claim some license to do so, for the original tracks themselves were subjected to creative editing by Teo Macero. Divided roughly into four sections, Panthalassa is a dark, continuous, hour-long, chronological tone poem of remixed electric Davis, from a 15-minute capsule of In a Silent Way through 16 minutes from the On the Corner sessions and finally nearly half an hour of selections from Get Up With It. Offered access to the original multi-track tapes, Laswell sometimes deletes the rhythm sections, brings up hidden instruments, adds Indian and electronic drones from elsewhere on the tapes, constructs moody transitions, and most tantalizingly, unearths passages from the sessions that were being released for the first time. Indeed, the On the Corner section yields two new titles to the Davis discography, the highly colored rock/funk "What If" and a sinister march-like "Agharta Prelude Dub." In the end, despite the altered sonic landscape, Laswell accurately evokes in turns the lonely, exquisitely gleaming, nightmarish, despairing moods that Davis was exploring prior to his 1975 retirement, a still much-misunderstood period whose music is far too disturbing and probing to deserve the sellout label. © Richard S. Ginell /TiVo
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Jazz - Released April 10, 2020 | M.O.D. RELOADED

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Reggae - Released October 29, 2002 | ROIR

One of the most prolific men in music, Bill Laswell doesn't release albums under his own name as often as he once did, which makes Book of Exit, the fourth in his "Dub Chamber" series, especially worthy of attention. While the previous "Dub Chamber" releases leaned more toward hard Jamaican-style dub music, with instruments dropping in and out and plenty of reverb and delay, this is altogether a different beat, in large part due to the vocals of Ethiopian singer Gigi. And what Laswell, Gigi, drummer/tabla player Karsh Kale, and percussionist Aiyb Dieng end up with is really ambient dub -- something lighter and more flowing because it adapts itself to the vocals. And Gigi is in excellent form, possibly better than on her own debut, whether on "Ethiopia" or the memorable, beautiful "Jerusalem," which mixes a slight R&B inflection with dub for something outstanding, beautiful, and ethereal. Laswell's light hand at the controls (even the disc's heaviest track, "The Lower Ground," is hardly the stuff of Lee "Scratch" Perry and King Tubby) works subtly -- shifts happen gradually, making for a sense of movement and focus about the pieces. And his work on guitar, bass, and keyboards is as accomplished as his colleagues. Slightly unearthly but always lovely, this dub chamber is a place worth exploring. © Chris Nickson /TiVo
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Electronic/Dance - Released February 23, 2014 | Sub rosa

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World - Released September 6, 1999 | Wicklow

Bassist and producer Bill Laswell has dabbled in several varieties of African music over the long and circuitous course of his career, with uneven results. But Latin America is a region he's left largely alone, until now. Imaginary Cuba finds him taking an approach somewhat similar to the one he employed on his Off World One project -- building on a foundation of field recordings, he constructs complex and often dub-inflected sound collages that sound like no one but Laswell while still maintaining respect for the music's origins. Laswell's distinctive bass style -- heavy, yet almost singingly melodic -- and his penchant for dubwise echo and fade techniques are what make this music recognizably his, but the raw materials that form its basis come from Cuban artists like Tata Guines, Frank Emilio, and the Septeto Nacional. Massed, trance-inducing drums, musichall piano, call-and-response vocals, and various unidentified stringed instruments are all part of the mix, and the rhythmic stew that Laswell cooks up using all of these ingredients is rich, thick, and spicy. Highly recommended. © Rick Anderson /TiVo
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Reggae - Released July 14, 1993 | WordSound Recordings

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Reggae - Released April 25, 2000 | ROIR

There's no doubting Bill Laswell's sincere love of dub (the reggae subgenre that anticipated remix culture by about 20 years). As one of the finest and most tasteful bass players on the planet, Laswell's grounding in reggae is evident in every note he plays, and his mystical, experimental production style has always been heavily influenced by such dubmasters as King Tubby, Scientist, and Lee "Scratch" Perry. But for all of the experimentalism (and sometimes downright abrasiveness) of many of his projects, he has been fairly criticized in the past for getting mushy when he gets into an explicitly dubwise context. Most notoriously, he managed to squander a great opportunity when he turned an entire album's worth of classic Bob Marley material into soupy multi-culti muzak. But the third volume in his Sacred System trilogy (called, confusingly, Dub Chamber 3) is more muscular than some of his other dubwise excursions, and although there's not much here to challenge the mind, the dreamy flavor of this music is consistently fortified by sturdy beats and Laswell's inimitably tasty basslines. The album consists of four long tracks; on all of them, he's joined by guitarist Nicky Skopelitis, and two of them also feature the playing of Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer, whose treated trumpet gives everything a beautiful, eerie sheen. Other guests include bassist Jah Wobble, percussionist Karsh Kale, and pianist Craig Taborn. Recommended. © Rick Anderson /TiVo

World - Released June 14, 1983 | Celluloid

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Reggae - Released November 18, 2003 | ROIR

Few American record labels have done more to further the cause of modern dub than New York's ROIR imprint, which has not only reissued classic dub recordings, but also actively encouraged contemporary artists to reinterpret the tradition according to their own vision. And since bassist and producer Bill Laswell is among the most prolific and original modern exponents of dub, it was inevitable that the two would find their way to each other. Laswell has recorded four albums of progressive dub under his own name for ROIR, and this retrospective collection brings together one track from each of them to make a more-or-less full-length compilation. At just over 46 minutes, the program is a bit skimpy, but it does sell at budget price, and there's certainly no arguing with the quality of the content. The first track, which comes from the least interesting of his four Dub Chamber albums, is the most ambient and the least compelling, though it is very pretty. "Thunupa" livens things up considerably by incorporating the ethereal cornet sounds of Graham Haynes, the drumming of reggae legend Style Scott, and the tabla playing of Bill Buchen. "Cybotron" is a collaboration with fellow bass master Jah Wobble, guitarist Nicky Skopelitis and others, and is simultaneously spacier and funkier. "Ethiopia/The Lower Ground," featuring vocals by the Ethiopian singer Ejigayehu "GiGi" Shibabaw, is one of the most rapturous, lovely compositions in the Laswell catalog. This album would make a fine introduction to Laswell's work for ROIR, but you really need to own all four albums (or at least the last three). © Rick Anderson /TiVo
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Electronic/Dance - Released February 21, 2014 | Sub rosa

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Pop - Released January 1, 1988 | One Up

On Hear No Evil, Bill Laswell attempts to fuse his love of Eastern musical forms and textures with the tonality and sensibility of the Western world. The result is a harmonious though rather benign combination, with much of the trappings of new age music. The album title can be taken at face value; there is no danger in sight. Mostly, the instrumentalists mesh perfectly in a pastoral blend that never drifts far from its harmonic center. Percussionists Zakir Hussain (tabla) and Aiyb Dieng (talking drums) produce the bulk of the rhythm and guitarist Nick Skopelitis and violinist Shankar weave pleasant, droning melodies around Laswell's rubbery bass playing. The only discord comes with "Assassin," an ineffective attempt at dark, throbbing funk. Still, the track serves as a good model for Laswell's approach. In this case, the West wins. Skopelitis delivers some banal rock licks over a beat that's not nearly as heavy as it might aspire to be. A mixture of tabla and talking drums makes its way into the music's pauses, providing an Eastern undercurrent, and Shankar lends a wordless vocal to the texture. The most successful track is the closing "Kingdom Come." The introduction highlights the group's percussion trio; Hussain is even allowed a captivating tabla solo, approaching his instrument like a drum kit. For once, the musicians are allowed some room to roam, and they delve into the beginnings of an engaging, improvised dialogue. While the fusion elements present on Hear No Evil may have seemed groundbreaking during the late '80s, the passing of time has not been so kind. Laswell's compositions take few risks, requiring the instrumentalists to pull more of the weight but, unfortunately, they remain too subdued. © Nathan Bush /TiVo
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Reggae - Released November 18, 2003 | ROIR

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Reggae - Released September 21, 2004 | ROIR

These days, dubwise takes a back seat to dancehall in the reggae market. Go to a CD store that sells a lot of reggae -- perhaps in Kingston, Jamaica, perhaps in the Brixton section of London -- and you'll find a lot more new dancehall recordings than new dub recordings. Nonetheless, dub still has an audience, and not everyone who is recording dub in the 21st century favors a classic '70s-type sound along the lines of King Tubby, U-Roy, I-Roy, Big Youth, or I-Jah Man. There is also the neo-dub movement, which Bill Laswell has been a vital part of. Version 2 Version: A Dub Transmission finds the veteran bassist/producer offering yet another dose of his intriguing neo-dub experimentation. Instead of giving an exact replica of grooves from dub's classic era, a 49-year-old Laswell combines dub with modern electronica and takes it to a trippy, hypnotic, atmospheric place -- a place where the reggae beat interacts with ambient club/dance grooves. Version 2 Version doesn't cater to dub purists by any means; anyone who expects this 2004 release to sound exactly like King Tubby circa 1971 is bound to be disappointed. But then, anyone who is familiar with Laswell's history knows that expecting him to offer a carbon copy of old-school dubwise would be like expecting Ornette Coleman to play "Ornithology" exactly like Charlie "Bird" Parker played it in the late '40s. In other words, Laswell is known for shaking things up, which is why his vision of dubwise is experimental rather than traditional. Although not Laswell's best or most essential dub album, Version 2 Version is definitely rewarding -- and it's nice to see him maintaining his free spirit at 49. © Alex Henderson /TiVo

Electronic/Dance - Released July 31, 2017 | IONO MUSIC

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World - Released January 1, 2000 | Metastation

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Alternative & Indie - Released April 10, 2019 | Sub rosa

While it may appear an anachronism in his catalog, fans of Bill Laswell will find City of Light an extension of ideas he has explored throughout his career. His strong interest in Eastern music and religion resulted in this 1997 collaboration with Janet Rienstra. Part sacred, spoken word, part meditative soundscape, City of Light takes as its inspiration the holy region of Banaras, India. Said to belong to Shiva, Banaras also contains the Ganges river: a place sought by Hindus for their cremation. Each song on this album contains text arranged by Rienstra and delivered by singer Lori Carson in soft, spoken words, breathy lines, and ghostly whispers. While the album concept may dissuade many listeners, religion is hardly its only dominating element. Surrounding the texts is some of the most compelling music the ambient genre has produced. The opening "Nothing" features a lengthy passage of tabla playing by Trilok Gurtu. The instruments slow construction and dissipation of dynamics and myriad of rhythms create a fascinating narrative of its own. The closing to "Kala" builds tension through the repetition of spring-like electronic tones that rise out of Carson's erie, unintelligible whispering. Laswell lends his own sparse, dub-influenced bass to "Above the Earth," playing against a buried clatter of metallic drums. Why City of Light bears Laswell's name however, is something of a mystery. He is only credited as a performer on two tracks: the album bookends, "Nothing" and "Above the Earth" (both of which he co-wrote with Carson). While he undoubtedly contributed a great deal (shaping the sound collages of Coil and Tetsu Inoue), the combined efforts on City of Light would seem to merit a collective title of its own. © Nathan Bush /TiVo
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Electronic/Dance - Released November 27, 2012 | M.O.D. Technologies

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World - Released January 1, 1998 | Metastation

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Electronic/Dance - Released July 22, 2009 | Charly Records

Even though Bill Laswell was already immersed in numerous projects since the end of the '70s, including leading his loose ensemble Material, he didn't release a solo record until 1983, and Baselines was quite a strange album. On the one hand, there's "Upright Man," one of the most infectious grooves Laswell has ever conceived, boasting ace bass playing and a weird taped sermon as sort-of lead vocals. Then there's "Work Song," which is funky and catchy and features Phillip Wilson's somewhat off-beat drumming (pun intended). The other tracks are more experimental, weird, and don't catch on as well -- although they all reward repeated listening, for at first the listener might get lost between Ronald Shannon Jackson's irate drumming, Michael Beinhorn's acid-drenched synths and snippets of tapes and shortwave, the stuttering horns of George Lewis and Ralph Carney, the undescribable contributions of Fred Frith, and the vocalisms and percussion (rhythmic and non-rhythmic) David Moss provides. It's an interesting record, but it's not essential listening, and beginners or fans of Laswell's less avant-garde music won't get much out of this. If the somewhat comparable Memory Serves by Material left you craving more, you might want to give this album a try. © Christian Genzel /TiVo
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Reggae - Released September 27, 1997 | ROIR

On Sacred System: Chapter Two, bassist and producer extraordinaire Bill Laswell makes good on the partly unfulfilled promise of 1996's Sacred System Chapter One: Book of Entrance. The difference, in this case, is a small ensemble of guest musicians who include Material guitarist Nicky Skopelitis, a tabla virtuoso named Bill Buchen, and jazz cornettist Graham Haynes (son of legendary bop drummer Roy Haynes). Whereas Chapter One was a rather arid solo project, Chapter Two comes completely to life with the various contributions of its ensemble players: Skopelitis mostly lays back and contributes lovely textures, while Haynes defines cavernous aural spaces with his echoey, jazzy horn lines and Buchen delivers almost impossibly intricate percussion figures. Laswell himself seems more energized, as well, and his basslines sound deeper, heavier, happier. This is a deeply satisfying compilation of groove music from one of groove's greatest living exponents. © Rick Anderson /TiVo