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Bill Laswell: Means of Deliverance

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Bill Laswell’s sound on the Warwick Alien-a newly designed fretless acoustic bass guitar-is astonishingly beautiful. Its core is the thick-string timbre of the upright, but rounder and more malleable, ideal for harmonic low-end drones supporting the guitaristic melody lines he plays. But that’s not enough to keep Means of Deliverance, Laswell’s solo recording on the instrument, afloat. Indeed, he seems to use technique and sonic palette as a substitute for coherent, compelling structures.

Vamps and riffs are a large part of the playing. “Ouroboros,” for example, moves from one repeating low-note riff to another, then another, with only plaintive but shapeless moans on top. The faintly Celtic “Epiphaneia,” which clocks in at less than five minutes, takes two minutes to escape a single recycling figure, only to replace it with a more virtuosic version of that same figure. Elsewhere are more complex and limber improvisations, but they don’t clarify matters: “A Dangerous Road” offers a labyrinth of a bass solo flaunting a glut of technique, but that solo has little connection to the mood and melody of the composition surrounding it.

The final two tunes, “Lightning in the South” and “Low Country,” finally provide moments of organization. The former uses repetition to its advantage with a ticking, Philip Glass-like pulse; the latter comprises a country-steeped, improvised bass melody with a pacing that’s both staccato and creepy-crawly and a huge, wide tone that evokes a wordless vocal. It’s too little too late, however. Hopefully Laswell will continue exploring the Warwick Alien, but in more orderly contexts.

Originally Published