October 13, 2019

Bill Laswell - Smoke + Glass & Realm of Spells Review

Bill Laswell - Smoke + Glass and Realm Of Spells Review

Bill Laswell - Smoke + Glass Review

Having significant involvement in the creation and release in over 100 albums since the early 80s, the breadth of musical discography that bassist, producer, and record label owner, Bill Laswell has accumulated is enough to overwhelm the senses and make your head spin. Still, Laswell, an undeniable influence in the genres of world, jazz, and dub, does it again with dual collaborative releases in 2019, Smoke + Glass (with Alex Haas), and Realm of Spells (with Jah Wobble).

To be completely fair, these are only two of the 7 albums Laswell has released so far this year (how is this even possible?!), but to consolidate my review article, I only plan to give a look into these two releases since they are the more collaborative efforts, and because the other 5 are self-released by Laswell himself. Released one day apart from one another July 25 and July 26 respectively, Smoke + Glass and Realm of Spells feel as if they were meant to be together, despite releasing on separate labels from one another. Smoke + Glass takes listeners on a journey through electronic, worldly, jazz, which settles into solid, smooth grooves, such as its opener Truth Be Told, but also has the ability to kick it up a notch for more experimental and daring electronic (can I say dance?) tracks with Hard to Believe. Besides these two distinctive moods, other compositions find their sound somewhere in between, such as the title track's confident and self-assured drumbeat bravado, which carries the listener through a palate cleanser of choral echoes, reverberating melodies, and repeated mantras. Strange Weather pulls up slowly before the drum brings the energy up a few more degrees in tempo. The smooth jazz that goes in and out of this track and the others give Smoke + Glass a level of easy listenability while still maintaining a very cool vibe.

By the end of the song, it's surprising to note that the first of these two collaborative albums is already halfway through, clocking in at only 46 minutes long. Chasing Chaos, easily the slowest openers of the bunch, fades in with swells and syncopated synthesizers for a few good minutes before the saxophone blasts in through the cosmos and cloud of sound with lively drum rolls before fading back into the ether. Chasing Chaos does this as a repeated pattern for the duration of the track, giving it something interesting to be heard every minute as it plays out. Another Way develops into a beautiful tabla / drum beat that maintains a steady and slow groove, while Second Thoughts goes back for another stab at experimental electronica, complete with audio-effected synthesizers and voices, and a dark tonal atmosphere. Forgotten City, the final track off of Smoke + Glass, pulls listeners in for a final reggae-dub-electronic coda, and features the traditional delayed and reverbed effects that the genre has become known for. Ultimately, it gives Smoke + Glass a nice full circle display of what both artists could accomplish when working together.

Bill Laswell - Realm of Spells Review

In Realm of Spells, a similar album with the same number of tracks (this one however, is 55 minutes long), Laswell teams up with known singer and bassist, Jah Wobble, and the two come together in this realm to craft a similar, but equally satisfying record. It's opening number and cocktail jazz groove in Uncoiling does much to set the mood into what the majority of this release has to offer: a magnificent blend of atmospheric, chill, jazzy, bass-y, and electronic recordings for listeners to zone out to that combine elements of reggae, dub, world, and jazz in such a way that it sounds unlike most other music released this year. Off World Departure gives the saxophone some room to breathe as it sounds as if it's floating on by, while Dark Luminosity builds the melodic tension with synthesizers, sound effects, and a repeated drum snare. Code of Echo's is a track which all the previous ones seem to have been building toward, as it's extended build-up and crescendo lead into a satisfying breakdown of instruments and free-flowing rhythms. It's bold bassline and slowly building drums allow Code of Echo's to fully unfurl with the rest of the entourage of instruments on display here. At The Point of Hustle pulls out all the stops as a groovy penultimate pleaser of a jazz track, with a repeated bass pluck and emphasis on the organ, while the final title track isn't afraid to go into weirder territory and move through multiple suites across 10 minutes.

As a full experience, Realm of Spells seduces with its magical whimsy, and feels a lot more jammy than Smoke + Glass, albeit while sounding a little too much of the same. This doesn't stop Realm of Spells from still having some truly magical moments, and these two records released one right after the other just go to show how busy, virtuosic, and prolific Bill Laswell has become.

Smoke + Glass - 9/10
Realm of Spells - 8.25/10

Recommended Tracks:
S+G: Hard to Believe, Strange Weather, Second Thoughts
RoS: Uncoiling, Code of Echo's, At The Point of Hustle