Saturday, December 9, 2023

Against Empire: Co-conspirators Weigh In

By David Cristol

In addition to our interview with Bill Laswell, we asked some of the artists and musicians who have worked with him to share some thoughts on their work and experiences together.

These are their stories:

Bachir Attar

Photo by Cherie Nutting

"Bill Laswell is a wonderful producer and a great musician. We were honoured to have him come to the village of Jajouka to record Apocalypse Across the Sky with the group "The Master Musicians of Jajouka" in 1992. I remember the donkeys climbing the mountain road to the village carrying Bill’s recording equipment to my father's house where we spent three days playing our music under a sky holding a big moon. This was the first record after the 1972 recording The Master Musicians of Jajouka with my father Hadj Abdesalam Attar who led the group before me. My brothers and I were all born in this house and famous people like Ornette Coleman, Paul Bowles, William Burroughs, Brion Gysin and many others stayed. We call it the "History house" but sadly today it is falling down and it needs repair. We hope to save it someday.

We had a 3-day recording session. The old musician Mfdal was too ill to play with us but we carried him in a chair to the house and he watched everything. Later, Boujeloud, his son, danced around a big fire when we played our ghaitas.

Bill took me to America to record a solo album with Maceo Parker and Ayib Dieng. Writer and composer Paul Bowles [living in Tangier at that time] once said that Bill had "perfect pitch". We thank Bill for all he has done for me and The Master Musicians of Jajouka."

  • The Master Musicians of Jajouka - Apocalypse across the sky (Axiom, 1992)
  • Bachir Attar - The Next Dream (CMP, 1992)
  • Various – The Road to Jajouka : a Benefit Album (Howe Records, 2013)
    With John Zorn, Marc Ribot, Medeski Martin & Wood, Mickey Hart, Lee Ranaldo, Ornette Coleman…
  • The Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar with Material - Apocalypse live (M.O.D. Technologies, 2017) 

Hamid Drake

Hamid Drake
Photo By Ziga Koritnik

“I first met Bill in the 1980s, at a recording session with Mandingo Griot Society. It was the third release for the group and Bill was producing it. He changed the trajectory of the group in several ways. At the time he also asked me to do some fills on Herbie Hancock’s “Sound System” that he was also producing. That was the beginning of our relationship. He introduced me to Pharoah Sanders and from that I got the chance to record and tour with Pharoah for several years. So many great people I met through my association with Bill. I am honoured to have been involved in many projects. Sometimes he would bring me to New York and Bill, Bernie Worrell and myself would just record a bunch of rhythm tracks that he would use for various records. I feel like we made a pretty good bass and drum team. The work with Bill does differ in many ways from some of my other work. But it makes sense. It has always been a pleasure to play and travel together. Both of us have a deep love for improvised and so-called free music. I consider Bill a dear friend and brother, with an amazing sense of humour. He’s quite a scholar when it comes to the diversity of music styles and history, and without a doubt one the musical production geniuses of our time. On a side note Bill has helped many musicians from many cultures. I am truly indebted to brother Bill. Thank you, Bill.”

Hamid Drake and Bill Laswell selected collaborations:
  • Pharoah Sanders - Message from Home (Verve, 1995)
  • Sacred System - Nagual Site (Wicklow, 1998)
  • Akira Sakata - Fisherman' (Starlets Japan, 2001; reissued on Trost, 2018)
  • Charged - Live (Innerhythmic, 2002)
  • Painkiller – 50th birthday celebration volume 12 (Tzadik, 2005)
  • Gigi & Material -  Mesgana Ethiopia (M.O.D. Technologies, 2010)
  • Lee "Scratch" Perry - Rise Again (M.O.D. Technologies, 2011)
  • Peter Brötzmann - Long Story Short - Wels 2011 (Trost, 2013)

Ziga Koritnik

Photo by Borut Peterlin

“In 2001, I got the opportunity to spend several weeks in the Slovenian studio of the Ministry of Culture in New York. I went with the aim of getting to know the photography and music scene, and find opportunities to exhibit. I visited the Vision festival for the first time, hung out at the Knitting Factory, Tonic and other jazz clubs. Amazing coincidences were happening to me, as a result of which the phrase "Space is the place!" constantly appeared in my mind. One of those coincidences, which I believe was not, was meeting Bill Laswell. I'd been a fan of his for a while, listening to Material, Last Exit and other projects. At that time, the idea of ​​making a photo book dedicated to jazz began to simmer. I was thinking about who could write a text for it and the idea came up that it could be Bill Laswell. I unsuccessfully called him at the studio where he worked. One day, I was walking around the galleries, when we met completely by chance in the immediate vicinity of his home in Chelsea. I didn't know where he lived, it was completely random. I explained my idea to him and he kindly invited me to his home, where I showed him my portfolio. He agreed to write the text and he gave me a then unreleased Operazone CD. Unfortunately, I did not follow up on the possibility because I was not sufficiently prepared and persistent in my desire. I completed my book Cloud Arrangers in 2019, unfortunately without Bill's text. Now a new opportunity is arising. I am finishing work on a photo book focusing on Peter Brötzmann and Bill has written some words for it. Book should be printed at the end of spring 2024.

I have attended a large number of Brötzmann’s concerts. The most vivid in my memory is a show in Salzburg's “Jazz-it” club in 1997, where he performed with Bill Laswell and Hamid Drake. Louis Moholo also joined them for a short span. No other concert has so profoundly and decisively transported me into a parallel existence. Another concert with Bill was with fellow bass player Jah Wobble. While the walls of the Knitting Factory were shaking from the strong vibrations from the two basses, people were shouting “More bass! More bass!”. We never have enough of good music.”

Kristo Rodzevski 

Photo by Angel Sitnovski

“During the pandemic lockdown, I found my old Macedonian tambura in the closet of my East Village apartment, buried behind clothes, books, and old boots. Over the next few days, I spontaneously started playing some traditional melodies and phrases – old songs that my grandparents used to sing to me or that I overheard during family celebrations, weddings, etc. – while I was growing up in Macedonia. I decided to record a few of them on my phone and sent them to Bill. I was curious to know what he would hear in the sound and the irregular rhythms. Bill called that night and said we should blend the phrases and record this material in a way George Russell’s Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature album was arranged. "It can work out," he said. The supernatural thing, or pure coincidence of that moment was that when I answered his call I was already holding that very LP in my hands and was putting it on the turntable, unaware of my motivation to do so. He knew what my idea was before I opened my mouth or had it clarified for myself.

 Bill is a man of few words, but his silence and restraint have all the sounds, wisdom, and aesthetics you can hear in his works – from Last Exit, Massacre to Henry Threadgill’s Too Much Sugar for a Dime, Masters of Jajouka, etc. A truly remarkable artist and friend.”

  • Kristo Rodzevski - The Rabbit and The Fallen Sycamore (Much Prefer Records, 2017) with Tomas Fujiwara, Mary Halvorson, Kris Davis, Ingrid Laubrock, Brian Drye. Mixed by Bill Laswell.
  • Kristo Rodzevski - Hubris (M.O.D. Reloaded, 2020) with Tomas Fujiwara, Ikue Mori, Bill Laswell, Mary Halvorson. Produced by Bill Laswell.
  • Kristo Rodzevski - Black Earth (Defkaz Record, 2023) with Dominic James, Josh Werner, Adam Rudolph. Mixed and produced by Bill Laswell.

Akira Sakata

Photo by Ziga Koritnik

“I met Bill in 1981, he was playing in Berlin Jazz Festival with Material, and I was there with my orchestra [live performance released the next year as Sakata Orchestra “Berlin 28”, Better Days label] . After that Bill Laswell asked me to join his band when he came to play with Last Exit, a few years later in Tokyo [as heard on “The Noise of Trouble”, Enemy Records 1986] . I asked Shannon Jackson, “could you please produce my record?” when I was in New York and Shannon said “You should ask Bill about it, he’s a good producer, I’m not.” Bill said yes and we made the Mooko record in 1988, and the “Japan Concerts” live recording by Mooko that same year. When we were recording at a New York studio, Bill and I talked about Mongolia. We said, let’s go to Mongolia. I would find some money, get some Japanese musicians involved, and Bill would gather some New York musicians. We put together the Flying Mijinko Band, went to Mongolia, China, Uzbekistan and Japan in 1994 [as recorded on “Central Asian Tour” double CD, The Japan Foundation 1995]. And before that we had recorded Silent Plankton with Bill [1991] . A few years later we made Fisherman’ with Pete Cosey and Hamid Drake [2001, reissued on Trost Records in 2018]. That’s the last one we did. There were other concerts, one of which just released on Bandcamp this year, Imabari with Peter Brötzmann, Kiyohiko Semba and Anton Fier in 1991. My English is very bad, my understanding of it as well, and it is very easy to understand Bill, he speaks in a simple way. He’s a big producer, and you know I didn’t have money to produce my albums, and he did them out of friendship. I met other musicians through him, like Nicky Skopelitis, Ayib Dieng, Foday Musa Suso and Anton Fier. I also met Bootsy Collins and Maceo Parker, although we didn’t play together. Last time I met him in New York it was before Covid, I had a concert with Chikamorashi (Darin Gray & Chris Corsano). We are friends, he’s like family. I wish for his sickness to go away.”

Wadada Leo Smith

Photo by Ziga Koritnik

"We did several sessions starting in 2014. There is a septet with two guitars and rhythm section, and a trio with Milford Graves. On the latter we celebrate the memory of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Ronald Shannon Jackson, an extraordinary drummer with whom we have played respectively at different  periods. With Bill, no need for lengthy talks. We just grab our instruments and the music happens."

  • Wadada Leo Smith/Bill Laswell – The Stone (MOD Technologies, 2014)
  • Wadada Leo Smith – Najwa (TUM, 2017)
  • Wadada Leo Smith with Milford Graves and Bill Laswell – Sacred Ceremonies (TUM, 2021)
  • Wadada Leo Smith & Orange Wave Electric – Fire Illuminations (Kabell, 2023)

John Zorn

Photo by Dvid Garland

Notes from « Memoria » (Tzadik, 2023). Reprinted with John Zorn’s authorization.

"Bill and I have been working together for over forty-five years. I have guested on a variety of his studio recordings, and he has performed and recorded my game pieces, various studio projects, and several film soundtracks. Together we have performed in countless live situations, most notably in Painkiller with several legendary drummers, including Mick Harris, Milford Graves and Dave Lombardo. The trio format of sax-bass-drums has long been a formidable challenge for every saxophonist. In it, each musician is naked, occupying a very different sonic territory. All their musical contributions are clearly exposed. Our interest was more focused on pioneering extreme new territory in the musical firmament, and along the way we made many friends, a few enemies, and even some enemies who later came around and became fans. One story involves one of my heroes – Lee Konitz. Lee came to see one of my concerts at the Knitting Factory, and later that same night he left a message on my answering machine. “Hey Zorn, can’t say I liked your concert, but afterwards I went up to Dizzy’s Coca-Cola room at Lincoln Center – and compared to what you are doing, the music up there sounded pretty old fashioned and predictable.” In recent years Bill and I have forged a new language in duo format. It is more nuanced than our trio outings, a bit less of an onslaught, but still embodying that level of intensity that we both strive for. The music here moved in a more ambient direction, capturing the feeling tones of a requiem – hence the CD title Memoria – a tribute to three friends and musical heroes that we have lost in recent years – Pharoah Sanders, Milford Graves, and Wayne Shorter."

John Zorn and Bill Laswell selected collaborations:

  • The Dream Membrane (Tzadik, 2014) (with David Chaim Smith)
  • The Cleansing (Tzadik, 2022)
  • Memoria (Tzadik, 2023)
  • John Zorn – Nosferatu (Tzadik, 2012) with Rob Burger & Kevin Norton
  • Painkiller – Talisman (Tzadik, 2002) with Mick Harris
  • Painkiller – Execution Ground (Subharmonic, 1994), reissued on the box set “Painkiller Collected works” (Tzadik, 1998)
  • Painkiller – 50th birthday celebration volume 12 (Tzadik, 2005) with Hamid Drake & Mike Patton
  • John Zorn – IAO – Music in Sacred Light (Tzadik, 2002)
  • John Zorn – Taboo and Exile (Tzadik, 1999)
  • Various artists – Celebrate Ornette (Song X Records, 2016) Ornette Reverb Quartet : Laurie Anderson, John Zorn, Bill Laswell, Stewart Hurwood  

... And a special thank you to Yoko Yamabe for all of her help!

Photo by Yoko Yamabe


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