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Published: 2004/03/30
by Chris Gardner

Lord of the Harvest – ZillatronROIR Dub Sessions – Bill LaswellHeaven and Hell – Shine

Innerhythmic 014

ROIR 9500

Innerhythmic 016

Bill Laswell has done damn near everything. He is wildly prolific both as

player and producer and possesses the kind of back catalog that prohibits

simplification. He has worked with Herbie Hancock, Brian Eno, Fela Kuti,

William S. Burroughs, Pharaoh Sanders, David Byrne, etc., etc., ad

infinitum. Recent months bring a re-release of a collaboration with His
Funkiness Bootsy

Collins, a dub retrospective, and a new dub-inspired disc from Shine. What

follows then is a tiny glimpse into the career of a man who could easily

have his name attached to a half-dozen other projects by year's end.

Lord of the Harvest manifests the alter ego of Bootsy Collins. He

has donned the sparkling cape and crown fo the omnipotent Zillatron, "the

great Overlord of Cyberfunk" and enlisted the other-worldly assistance of

Buckethead, reputed fret board freak, and the keymaster, Bernie Worrell.

Bootsy supplies the bass and beats, which leaves Laswell to bring the noise,

weaving ambient sounds and clips throughout while lacing in spoken word

snippets and found sounds. The results are scattered both intentionally and

unintentionally. The heavily decorated funk of "Bugg Lite" and "Fuzz Face"

are attributed to Bootsy alone and effect the galactic funkiness and whimsy

many have come to expect of him. Slap-poppin' bass lines and break downs

are the order of the day, spliced with Laswell's collage and Zillatron's

non-sequitur interjections. Buckethead cuts an edge,bringing some heavy

metallitude to the proceedings, and the result sounds almost exactly like

you would hope cyberfunk would sound.

As Buckethead and Laswell begin to

collaborate as writers though, the scope of the album expands and the focus

blurs. Many of the elements persevere, but despite references to Roswell

and "political partyin' goin' on," much of the exuberance of the early

tracks is absent, subsumed in the mechanized, hard-edged contributions of

Laswell and Buckethead. "Exterminate" is a foray into gritty, machine gun

techno beats that feels misplaced, while "Count Zero" dips into ambience

with the accurate, recurring clip, "This stuff is very comforting," over a

funky drum beat. The menacing stomp of "Bootsy and the Beast" pits the

low-end against Buckethead's alternately exhilarating and indulgent flights,

but by the time the album reaches the penultimate "No Fly Zone," the tricks

are out of the bag, and the the game is losing its charm. The ideas and

syntheses here are engaging and well worth exploring, but the songs on

of the Harvest are flimsy structures to prop up ideas rather than ideas

themselves. Once you've heard the ideas, the songs aren't enough to keep

you around.

While it is virtually impossible to summarize or classify Laswell's career,

it is easier to get a handle on portions, most especially now his work in

dub thanks to ROIR's chronological retrospective of his four album Sacred

System/ Dub Chamber series. 1996's "Dread Internal" finds Laswell

in dub-land, locking down the low-end with e fiercely repetitive though not

looped bass line and a static drum beat to match. The reggae vibe, fleshed

out with echoing keys, is pervasive and thick as the track drives the

listener into a head-bobbing trance. "Thunupa" begins to stretch the

boundaries by adding Arabian and Indian influences via Karsh Kale's hypnotic

tabla work. Graham Haynes takes the melodic lead on cornet, stretching the

music into jazzier territories as well, but it's all still decidedly dub.

The final cut, "Ethiopia/ The Lower Ground," feels initially like a leap

forward. Laswell enlists Ejigayehu "Gigi" Shibabaw's mesmerizing voice in

the front end and alters the instrumentation while maintaining the spirit of

dub. Here, acoustic guitar, tambourine, and accordion-influenced keys lock

down the refrain beautifully. It works so well, applies the hypnotic

element of dub so refreshingly, that the latter half of the track feels like

a betrayal, despite the decorative tablas and keys which make it some of the

best work on the comp.

Finally, 2004's Heaven and Hell, under the Shine moniker, finds

paired with long-time collaborator and suspected mutant Buckethead. The

album, divided into seven movements, functions as combinations of a few

parts. Shin Terai has crafted a high-tech junkyard beat with a rimshot that

courses throughout. Less regular is a chugging, hard-edged rhythm riff from

Buckethead. Two bass lines shift in and out of the mix. One is

predominately rhythmic while the other, the album's theme, is a gorgeously

simple melodic line, which Buckethead mimics with his own slippery,

washed-out rhythm line. It is all a long way from "Dread Internal" in

sound, but the driving idea is essentially the same. Entrancing, static

low-end grooves press the listener into a near-meditative state. It seems

counter-intuitive to speak of innovation in a medium where hypnotizing

stasis is the goal, but Laswell presses forward nonetheless. Shine exhibits

very little of the reggae so crucial to early dub. Thanks in large part to

Buckethead (also a suspected alien), the vibe here is more cosmic than

islandic, and while dub admittedly has its spacey element, the angle here is

different. Buckethead plays often elongated lines rife with envelope and

echo effects that reach across distances, and one suspects it is this

reaching, this struggle to elevate, that inspires the album's title. The

resulting album, like last year's "Charged Live," swims in small circles,

treading all the while in familiar waters. But where it crippled "Charges

Live," rendering a flat and uninspired album, the opposite is true here.

The exploration yields more intriguing discoveries, and the brilliant theme

finds the band and the listener diving deeper rather than paddling away.

The examples here confirm for any doubters that Laswell's place in the dub

universe is well-deserved. A relentless innovator, he seeks new ways to

apply dub ideas through varied instrumentation and cultural hybrid. he

traces the roots of repetitive, low-end music back thousands of years and

believes the influence of dub is only beginning to be felt, but it's hard to

see it. To untrained ears, it all sounds the same, and many listeners are

too impatient to wade through ten minutes of a lock-step rhythm to find

gold, enlightenment, or synaptic release. Those who don't give in to the

hypnosis will simply miss out.

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