For some people, it's problematic enough to have to listen to a bass solo, but to endure an entire album of solo bass playing?
Well, Bill Laswell has made an amazing album, Means of Deliverance (released in 2012 on his Innerhythmic label), that uses a Warwick fretless acoustic bass instrument called the Alien to create a series of textures and tones that are familiar, yet also (yes) alien, when one things of the traditional electric or acoustic bass.
He also finds interesting ways to make the Alien a melodic instrument as well as a rhythmic one and it is his ability to make the bass sing, as well as his exemplary technique and use of atmospheric textures that gives Means of Deliverance its special qualities.
As with other solo albums, most notably the excellent 1999 release Hear No Evil (Meta Records), Laswell draws deeply from the experiences of his upbringing in Kentucky and Illinois and was once quoted about the hard impression made on his musical development by hillbilly music.
Oz Fritz, who has worked frequently as a recording engineer with Laswell, points out on his blog, "The Oz Mix," that Laswell's global travels, physically and musically, are encoded in the title of this album and in its contents. Fritz refers to Means of Deliverance as "spacecreating," which is an excellent way of putting it. The songs have their melodies, rhythms and other elements of structure, but there is an expansive sense of space between the notes and around the sound the Alien guitar makes.
In another interesting piece on the Sonic Scoop site, Laswell is quoted as discussing how life experience and the effects this has on the musical vocabulary, languages and improvisation lead to interesting stories that can be told through the music. This excellent post notes that Laswell and his engineers Robert Musso and James Dellatacoma, longtime collaborators, employed a three-level recording method. First were the rhythmic elements, the leads built off those rhythms, and finally drones from an e-bow or slide. Up to six tracks are used on the record, even with its rather spartan feel.
On one piece, Laswell's wife Gigi Shibabaw, an Ethiopian singer with great emotive abilities who also produced the record, provides a plaintive and keening vocal. A buzzing drone accompanies the warm tones of the Alien to make "Bagana Sub Figura X" a highlight of the recording.
It should also be noted that special consideration was given to equipping Laswell's Orange Music studio with an environment, along with the excellent work done by Musso and Dellatacoma, a gorgeous, full and clear sound, enhancing the listening experience. Moreover, the mastering by Michael Fossenkemper at TurtleTone expertly works with the low end of the bass that Laswell is so adept at expressing. As Fritz observes, you can almost feel Laswell's fingers hitting the strings because of the clarity and cleanness of the sound. For a solo recording like this, there's an immediacy that is really palpable.
Fritz has another valuable observation: Means of Deliverance has a progressive presence and that is an apt way to describe one of the most interesting of the legions of albums that Bill Laswell has produced. It is an object lesson in creating a unique personal statement on one's chosen instrument and Laswell is to be saluted for making it and taking us with him on his journey.