The Friday Mix Tape: All’s Well That’s Laswell

I came at Bill Laswell through a back door, and somehow that seems appropriate when jousting with a man whose mission it is to cause cultures to collide and reap the rewards. I can’t remember if it was Karsh Kale’s sit-ins STS9 in the early “what do we call this decade” or Zakir Hussain, who I first saw as part of Planet Drum in the early 1990’s, that brought me to Tabla Beat Science 4 or 5 years ago, but whichever it was, I’m thankful.

Photo by Peter Gannushkin/DOWNTOWNMUSIC.NET

Most of the rest of you probably first noticed Laswell, an enigmatic cosmic jester and bass guru, on Herbie Hancock’s Rockit, which he produced, supplying bass duties and co-writing much of the material. As important an album as it is, it’s dated, but what we have this week a sampling of Laswell’s dub explorations from the last 10 years or so, timelessly weighty ambient grooves featuring a core group of Hussain, Kale, Jah Wobble and Bernie Worrell.

The first track, “Black Lotus” comes from the 1998 Nagual Site, an Indian/Dub fusion album that relies heavily on vocals and tabla, but not so much that it seems disconnected from the rest of this mix. In fact, these tracks tend to melt right into one another. The second, “Dystopia”, is the opening track from 2004’s Version 2 Version: A Dub Transmission, definitely my favorite Laswell offering to date. The final two cuts are from the four part Sacred System Dub Chamber series, the leaden “Thunupa” from Sacred System Chapter Two and “Jerusalem”, an incredibly well crafted club-dub track featuring Laswell’s wife Ejigayehu Shibabaw, better known as Ethiopian vocalist GiGi, from Book of Exit, Dub Chamber 4. It’s the finale of the series and a fine cap to this mix. Get ready to trance and enjoy!

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