Praying Mantra

As Laswell becomes increasingly involved in the areas of ambient music, it is interesting to note that "The End Of Words" from Seven Souls was included on Virgin Records' A Brief History Of Ambient, Vol. I, along with the work of Eno, Gong, William Orbit, and others. The new Caroline Records compilation entitled Excursions In Ambience -- The Second Orbit features a collaboration with The Orb, on a piece entitled "Mantra," that was primarily recorded in Madras, India, and which is featured on Material's Hallucination Engine. An edit of this same piece, under the name of "Praying Mantra," is also featured on Volume's Trance Europe Express compilation of ambient/trance music, along with pieces by The Orb, Aphex Twin, Orbital, and others. The complete, 17-minute Orb mix of "Praying Mantra," along with Laswell's dub remixes of the piece, was released on a commercial CD-single and 12" vinyl through Axiom/Island UK, appearing in import and promotion-only forms in the US.


New possibilities have been opened in the unrivaled combination of technical virtuosity, bizarre mutation of horror film and children's cartoon aesthetics, and mysterious persona that comprise guitarist Buckethead. First brought in for Praxis' anarchic and futurist Transmutation album on Axiom in 1992 -- a manifesto of possibilities featuring Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, Limbomaniacs drummer Brain, and Afrika Baby Bam of the Jungle Brothers, incorporating cut-up production of everything from free jazz and noise music to funk and hardcore -- Buckethead has lent his virtuostic and ideosyncratic stylings to Zillatron, Sacrifist, Worrell's Pieces Of Woo, and other projects, culminating in his own project with Sony, with Giant Robot, which features Bootsy, drummers Jerome Brailey and Ted Parsons (of Prong), Iggy Pop, artist Julian Schnabel, and actor Bill Mosley (of the film Texas Chainsaw Massacre II) on vocals, among others.

Everything Must Go

While Celluloid since the early 1980s had been a home for developmental -- and often radical -- experimentation, and Enemy Records (which was started by Laswell and shined brightly as an outlet for radical projects by Last Exit, Sonny Sharrock, SXL, and Blind Idiot God, only to be stolen by a dishonest administrator who ironically still operates the label as a shell of its former self) and the Venture and Nation imprints through Virgin Records (with the incredible concentration of energy created with Seven Souls, Mooko, Next To Nothing, and Taboo on Nation, and Iron Path and Hear No Evil on Venture) were in the late 1980s acmes, it was through the enthusiastic support of Island Records founder Chris Blackwell in the 1990s that Laswell was to create the vehicle for his vision and collective. Based in a commitment to absolute artistry, in its purest, most unhindered form -- to a degree that its releases actually serve as a collective manifesto against the boundaries that confine art, culture, and ultimately humanity -- Axiom became an integrated and transcendent Temporary Autonomous Zone that deals strictly in freedom and quality.


From the first Axiom releases, Ginger Baker's Middle Passage -- which was an extension of the Nation/Venture acme -- and the unprecedented tapping into spiritual music that was Gnawa Music Of Marrakesh - Night Spirit Masters, each release in the Axiom catalog has broken significant ground and caused a reevaluation of standards across the board. Unique types and levels of collaboration extend beyond musical boundaries to include the active involvement of such artists as James Koehnline, Shinro Ohtake, Thi-Linh Le, Ira Cohen, and Eiko Ishioka, as well as such writers as Paul Bowles, Robert Palmer, William S. Burroughs, Steve Lake, Robert Browning, and Hakim Bey.

Axiom comfortably fields collaborative albums of mind-boggling epic proportions, in terms of sheer musical and conceptual energy -- not to mention logistics -- spanned or ignored distances and divisions, or the proof of "Third Mind" and random magics: the aforementioned Apocalypse Across The Sky and Transmutation projects; Sonny Sharrock's award-winning and universally- acclaimed tribute to the spirit of Coltrane, Ask The Ages, featuring Elvin Jones, Pharoah Sanders, and Charnett Moffett; Material's The Third Power, featuring a plethora of innovators of cutting-edge African-American music of the last three decades; Bahia Black - Ritual Beating System, which combines street musics of Brazil and New York with legendary improvisers and composers, including Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock; Nicky Skopelitis' Ekstasis, a visceral, heavy rock and funk trance album featuring Ziggy Modeliste of the Meters, Jaki Liebezeit of Can, Jah Wobble, Amina Claudine Myers, and many long-time international collaborators; Last Poet Umar Bin Hassan's phoenix- like return with powerful Afro-funk backup on Be Bop Or Be Dead; the pristine clarity of futuristic classical recordings by Shankar (Soul Searcher) and Simon Shaheen (The Music Of Mohamed Abdel Wahab); the long-tone heavy metal of Ronald Shannon Jackson's Red Warrior; the expanded ensemble compositions of Henry Threadgill's award-winning Too Much Sugar For A Dime; the lush acoustic richness of the Turkish saz master Talip Ozkan's The Dark Fire; impeccable large-ensemble field recordings of traditional musics on Mandinka and Fulani Music Of The Gambia - Ancient Heart; the serene string quartet backup of Jonas Hellborg's The Word, featuring duets with Tony Williams; or the high-tech fusion of West African traditions with New York dancefloors of Mandingo's New World Power. Two compilation albums on Axiom, Illuminations - Axiom Collection and Manifestation - Axiom Collection II represent the label as a cohesive entity; Manifestation includes a series of unreleased ambient dub remixes that combine with trance musics from Morocco to emphasize the spiritual and transcendent aspects of Axiom to the fullest.

Let It Come Down

1994's Material album on Axiom, Hallucination Engine, features virtually everyone from Seven Souls, augmented by a huge cast that includes Wayne Shorter, Bootsy, Sola, Trilok Gurtu, Jonas Hellborg, Bernie Worrell, and various Indian and Arabic traditional players. Like other breakthrough projects such as Sound System, Seven Souls and Hear No Evil, Hallucination Engine is the culmination of tremendous energies and encompasses vast areas of music in new organic compounds. The ultimate fusion of ambient and jazz, funk and dub, seamlessly combining the elements of Axiom and Laswell's other varied projects of the last several years, Hallucination Engine brings everything to another plane.

One of contemporary music's most intriguing paradoxes, Laswell exists in a 
parallel universe of his own devising.  The projects he tends to involve 
himself in allude to fairly available, dominant strains in the modern 
vocabulary:  world music, jazz improvisation, rock, and funk rhythm 
machinery.  But what comes out is a world apart...Laswell produces -- 
facilitates, manifests, whatever you want to call the process -- music that 
avoids the linear, frontal nature of most Western music.  Improvisation is a 
critical component, but it has less to do with the standard expression of 
individual ego than with being part of a general music fabric, integrating 
the elements into a democratic, atmospheric whole... 
	"We're just trying to be creative and not get stuck in any one way of 
thinking or doing things, and not thinking of music as different categories 
or musicians being from different styles, but everything as being spontaneous,
as it happens, as it exists, and base it on how it feels.  It's important to 
judge things from what you're experiencing, not from what you've heard about, 
and what you relate it to, or where you think it might come from." 
-- "bill laswell's axiom of exploration," by Josef Woodard, Jazziz 12/93-

While this brief summary touches on some crucial projects, it is only the tip of the iceberg, and the body of work Laswell has produced approaches a set of some 200 albums. Finally, his incredible rate of output and propensity towards radical innovation keep a flow that is ultimately undocumentable, if ever really conceivable at all.