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Bill Laswell: Emerald Heather

A strange Irish stew of the musical sort is the upshot when Bill Laswell gets into the kitchen on Emerald Heather (Shanachie 78035; 49:39). Laswell, working as a sort of genetic engineer with remix on the brain, has previously burrowed into the musical worlds of ’70s Miles Davis tracks for Panthalassa, and visited and reshaped Cuban musical sources on Imaginary Cuba. Here the subject is the Celtic muse for a set of intriguing “Reconstructions of Irish Music, Mix Translation: Bill Laswell,” as the tray card reads. Sources, including such noted Irish musicians as Jerry O’Sullivan, Matt Molloy and Karan Casey are deconstructed, looped, made ethereal, surreal and other modes to the side of real. Fiddling fury is grafted onto oblique drum ‘n’ bass grooves-a surprisingly natural fit. All in all, the sum effect is refreshing and a bit disorienting, a literal new spin on Irish music as we’ve come to know it.

The inherent impurity of these projects naturally leads to some controversy regarding the ostensible compromise of authenticity when an “outsider” messes with the genuine article. In effect, though, Laswell creates these pastiches in a way similar to the way he has “produced” darkly ambient albums using live musicians who hail from different world traditions. He’s an impurist, in love with the idea of music as a mutable entity, a carrier of secrets and hidden potential.

Originally Published