Tag Archives: Maleem Mahmoud Ghania

A Guide to Bill Laswell and Axiom

Bill Laswell

Bassist and producer Bill Laswell was pretty much a one-man industry in the 1980s and 1990s. He first came to prominence working on albums like Brian Eno’s On Land and Eno’s collaboration with David Byrne, My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. Working with small labels like Celluloid and Enemy, he made crazily eclectic albums with his musical collective Material, pulling tricks like putting free jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp and a then-unsigned Whitney Houston together on a version of Soft Machine’s “Memories.” Beginning in the mid ‘80s, he came into his own, producing Herbie Hancock’s massive hit “Rockit,” Mick Jagger’s solo outing She’s the Boss, and PiL’s Album. He also worked with Motörhead, the Ramones, Iggy Pop, and White Zombie as the decade continued, while forming the fearsome noise/jazz/metal improv quartet Last Exit with saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, guitarist Sonny Sharrock, and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson.

In the 1990s, Laswell’s cultural stock was at an all-time high, and he launched the Axiom label through Island Records. He put out albums by international artists (L. Shankar, Simon Shaheen, the Master Musicians of Jajouka), rock legends going in new directions (Ginger Baker), avant-garde jazz pioneers (Henry Threadgill, Sonny Sharrock), and his own projects Material and Praxis, not to mention compilations that explored his interests in dub, hip-hop, and whatever else crossed his radar. Laswell has always been an evangelist for what he calls “collision music,” combining players from a variety of backgrounds and traditions and seeing what emerges. With Axiom releases, you might get something hypnotic and breathtakingly beautiful, or you might get dub with tablas and some underpowered saxophone on top. At the same time, though, he was able to spend Island’s money traveling internationally to record traditional music with modern equipment.

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