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Wednesday, May 8, 2002

Deep in the Laswell mix


Bill Laswell may be best-known as a bassist and producer, but some of his best work of recent years has been on the mixing desk, doing epic, album-length "mix translations" of artists such as Bob Marley, Miles Davis and Carlos Santana. His latest venture in this field is "Shy Angels," a reconstruction of the entire "Madman of God" album by Iranian avant-garde diva Sussan Deyhim. Laswell's in heavy dub mode here, placing Deyhim's undulating vocal renditions of Sufi poems over suspended spaces, minimal grooves and bass as heavy as absinthe. Like all good dub mixers, he takes away as much as he adds: Tabla, frame drum, cello, tar, electric piano and a host of more abstract sounds drop in and out with ruthless precision. At once "real" and virtual, "Shy Angels" embraces the tensions between live recordings of actual "songs" and studio (de)composition.

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News photo

Another of Laswell's strengths is to serve as a catalyst who creates intriguing spaces in which diverse musicians coalesce. Released on Laswell's own Meta label, "Spiritual Beauty" is a compilation of music based on the idea of an "imaginal Orient," described in Hakim Bey's liner notes as "nostalgia for some time/place that is present but unobtainable; sadness of separation."

Laswell contributes a pair of his own tracks: an "amorphous" Islamic remix of a work with Sussan Deyhim and tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, and a bass-heavy deep-space dub with his Divination project. San Francisco DJ Cheb-i-Sabbah pumps out a hypnotic percussive piece, Turkish ney flutist Omar Faruk Tekbilek offers soaring, tranced-out Kurdish melodies, while bassist Jah Wobble's Temple of Sound offers floor-rattling darbukka-dub and some fluid, sensual vocals by Shahim Badar.

Laswell releases can range from the immaculately produced to the jammed-out-in-an-afternoon variety, a situation that leaves many listeners wondering when to check in. "Shy Angels" and "Spiritual Beauty," though, are both essential listening.



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