Bill Laswell is the Trickster God of the New York City experimental music scene, working his
strange enchantment from the shadows, disguising himself in the masquerade of his myriad
projects and labels; he cuts a figure of inscrutable motives, sometimes wrecking dreadful
havoc, often consecrating the most joyful unions. Laswell's disparate train of revelers
includes refugees from the original Parliament/ Funkadelic collective, the Last Poets, the
inimitable Buckethead, the ghost of Old Bull Lee himself, William S. Burroughs, moonlighters
from the John Zorn NYC free jazz scene, and a considerable amount of world and electronic
music heavyweights. No two Laswell projects sound alike, and while many truly soar, even the
ones that suck are at least stunningly unique failures.
Even if Laswell had retired in 1994 after releasing Axiom Ambient: Lost in the Translation,
he could have rested fat on the laurels of having created one of the sex music masterpieces of
the electronic age. But Laswell has persisted. And Invisible Design is clearly his most
inspired composition since Axiom Ambient; even 1998's formidable Panthalassa
pales beside the audacious genius of Invisible Design.
This album is Laswell's apocalypse. Gone are the train of revelers, gone are the occult
ceremonials. This is the apotheosis of Bill Laswell, his ascent from a trickster god of
shadowy ambivalence to a Creator of dazzling compositional authority. First off, Laswell has
restored his bass guitar to primacy, a break from much of his dub and electronic output where
his bass lines are layed down sparsely, then clipped, looped and treated. The opening track,
"Black Aether," is a nightmarish masterpiece of dark ambient, punctuating long, slithering
solo bass explorations with blasts of industrial crunch. The twilit "Commander Guevara"
highlights the subtle lyricism of Laswell's meandering bass, accompanied only by faded washes
of windchimes. The Eastern- tinged "Aisha" is one of the album's highlights: played by bass,
tamboura, and gentle percusion, the track displays a tight, almost folk- like compositional
structure that is rare in jazz and experimental music. "Night Air and Low Frequency" is
reminiscent of the world- ambient bliss of Axiom Ambient and showcases the bass/ tabla
lock that created the compelling rhythms of that album.
Invisible Design is a simply brilliant, though emotionally complex album, full of
desolation and emptiness. Seldom does the Tzadik label produce works of real sustained
psychological impact, opting generally for the wedding of musical brilliance and emotional
sterility. There is something truly candid and open about Invisible Design that's a
real gift from Bill Laswell, an artist who seems to celebrate obfuscation and mystery.
Considering that Laswell records almost entirely under various band and project names, the
fact that he's released Invisible Design under his own name is a testament to the
honesty of the work. Laswell's opus stands as one of the most forthright and personal albums
of instrumental music released this year. It possesses the gravity of a revelation.
-Brent S. Sirota