Always experimental and always an outsider musician as far as a general sort of listenership would be concerned, Bill Laswell’s contribution to popular music has nevertheless been a fantastic journey of the offbeat and powerful. I’m familiar with Laswell’s work primarily through his remixes/reworkings/dub plates. All of those terms, incidentally, don’t really seem to capture what he does, though: it’s a creative re-imagining of a source body of work, executed by someone who has complete mastery of the digital audio production realm (I think of Bill Laswell as someone with the same level of limitless production capabilities as Amon Tobin, for example – only Laswell’s been at it a few decades longer). I’ve immensely enjoyed his reworkings of Bob Marley, Miles Davis and Sussan Deyhim over the years. (I’ve toyed with his ‘Imaginary Cuba’ disc in the record store but haven’t bought it yet. And everyone who can get their hands on them should listen to the Gigi albums he produced.)
These two CDs are collections of classic dub tracks by famous creators like King Tubby, Sly and Robbie, The Upsetters, Prince Jammy, Augustus Pablo and others. And Laswell gently re-imagines them, strings them together, interlaces them with small bits of sound that weave them together into a coherent whole. Levels are adjusted, the bass made maybe a little crunchier, dubbier, tighter (some of the originals were way out there in terms of crazy analogue dub production… and today’s ears may have slightly different expectations). Bill Laswell also reigns in the pervasive tape hiss from the originals (a result of endlessly spliced, erased, overdubbed tapes that were basically in tatters by the time the producers were through with a track). Everything gets a new sheen, but one that’s appropriately analogue-sounding and respectful of these classic tracks and their immense straight-on assault on the ears.
On a good stereo, with good headphones, late at night, these two discs are a wonder of sonic exploration. It’s the sort of thing that can keep you up a good deal past your bed time. Time well spent.