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Bill Laswell's Method Of Defiance
Nihon Marcus O'Dair , July 16th, 2009 14:54

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Bill Laswell, the American bassist and producer whose output is estimated by some to exceed 700 albums, is not, on the whole, a man about whom people feel indifferent. Fans point to multiplicity of genres within which he's operated, including dub, ambient, funk, leftfield jazz, metal, hip hop, and more than one strand of so-called world music. Equally varied and rather more impressive is his choice in collaborators, stretching from Mick Jagger to John Zorn, Yoko Ono to Pharoah Sanders, Herbie Hancock to PiL, Bootsy Collins to Beat novelist William Burroughs.

Others, on the other hand, object to the fact that Laswell's personality – not to mention rather glossy touch – is so deeply stamped upon everything that passes through his mixing desk. Production work on Motorhead's Orgasmatron and “sellout" Swans album Burning World have received some of the loudest criticism, alongside his remixes of Miles Davis and Bob Marley. Yet they are far from isolated incidents: a thread on the ilxor music forum entitled “Is there a worse producer in the universe than Bill Laswell?" ran happily from 2001 to 2008.

Nihon, Laswell's new album in his Method Of Defiance guise is, in truth, unlikely to change minds in either direction. Stylistically, its heart sits somewhere between dub and ambient drum'n'bass, although both rock and dancehall stick an occasional oar in (the latter most evident in Dr Israel's occasional vocal toasts). Toshinori Kondo's diffused, effects-laden trumpet, meanwhile, recalls the expansive jazz-influenced tones of Jon Hassell or Nils Petter Molvaer.

Laswell may have been born in Illinois four decades previously, but the overall effect is at times strangely reminiscent of 1990s Bristol. Channeled through that almighty echo chamber are reverberations of both Massive Attack's co-opting of dub and 70s funk and jazz, and the live drum'n'bass of Reprazent (though in contrast to both those acts, Nihon is a predominantly instrumental affair).

The continued focus on groove will frustrate those looking for melodic or harmonic innovation, but Nihon is a stoner record, moody and unhurried, and it should at the very least succeed in setting heads nodding. It's just edgy enough too, and with sufficient filth in the lower register to counteract Laswell's occasional weakness for the envelope filter. Some may question the relevance of a dubby DnB record in 2009 – but if Laswell doesn't seem to be breaking any new ground in this instance, it's in many ways testament to his success in pioneering this kind of genre cluster-fuck over the past three decades. Give the man a break.

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eleventh volume
Jul 17, 2009 12:24pm

Bill Laswell, after whom I once named a cat, produced some absolutely amazing work in the early days of his career: Low Life with Peter Brotzmann, Memory Serves and Temporary Music with Material, his debut eponymous album with the cream of NY left-field players (and the greatly missed Ronald Shannon Jackson), his production work for Herbie Hancock and Manu Dibango and many others. It's a long list, but then the genre-crashing seemed to gradually corrode his work until it became awfully shallow eclecticism. I've heard way too many disappointing Bill Laswell albums now to bother with anything new he does. Real shame.

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eleventh volume
Jul 17, 2009 12:26pm

In reply to eleventh volume:

Oh and I really struggle with "Toshinori Kondo's diffused, effects-laden trumpet, meanwhile, recalls the expansive jazz-influenced tones of Jon Hassell or Nils Petter Molvaer". Neither JH nor NPM show any sign at all of jazz infuence. Equating NPM and Hassell is also pretty awful, the Norwegian being a narrow disciple of the American and all.

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John Doran
Jul 17, 2009 2:04pm

Perhaps you'd like to read our Bill Laswell interview then . . . it's mainly about stuff he got up to in 1983 . . .

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eleventh volume
Jul 17, 2009 2:08pm

It's saved to my iPhone ready to read on my way to work, thanks!

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Giacomo Bruzzo
Jul 19, 2009 9:47pm

Pity - you should give the release a listen. It is intense, close and really quite beautiful - the centrepiece of the release, which is contains a CD but also a DVD are two sets Method Of Defiance played in Japan in August 2007. The DVD is really worth a look, before putting it down so mercilessly (and with a little prejudice, may I add). Are you all aware of the spectacular work done by Laswell in Japan over the last five years or are you all stuck in the Axiom years?

available now on RareNoiseRecords, I may add

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Jan 16, 2011 11:16pm

Anyone who´s bothered to listen to the long list of Laswell´s recordings and collaborations knows that it ranges from brilliant to nearly disastrous. Method of Defiance is definitely amongst his best, alongside with Material (Point of Order), Painkiller and the amazing collective on Jazzonia.

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Tom Bojko
Apr 27, 2011 6:42pm

The opening track along -- Bernie Worrell's version of Volunteered Slavery -- is worth the price of admission. Herbie Hancock's playing on this? Sounds great. What's not to like? I think there's a difference between a "glossy touch" and "competent recording". Personally, I like being able to differentiate the kick drum from the bass, etc, rather than just hearing mud in the low end.

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