Mercurial New Yorker Bill Laswell reflects on the New
York-Tokyo connection behind next weeks Pit Inn shows
There wasnt a conscious effort to be back and
forth from Japan, it just kind of fell in place, bassist
and producer Bill Laswell explains over the phone from his
New York City home.
With a Fuji Rock Festival appearance by his Praxis trio followed
earlier this month by a set from his Tabla Beat Science project
at the True Peoples Celebration, to be followed yet
again next week when Laswell and fellow New York experimental
musician John Zorn set up shop at jazz club Shinjuku Pit Inn,
Laswell will have performed in Japan three times in less than
Visits by the veteran downtown New York fixture to Pit Inn
have been an annual affair in recent years, but this years
flurry of invitations came out of the blue. It was slow
for a while but lately everyone is interested, Laswell
says. It feels to me that theres more interest
and possibilities for live performance than ever now.
Laswell and Zorn began their annual residencies at Pit Inn
a few years ago as a means for them to gig with the many Japanese
musicians they had gotten to know through years of interaction.
Laswell had been coming to Japan regularly since 1983 both
to perform and for production work, and had always made an
effort to get out to the clubs to acquaint himself with what
he describes as a vital Japanese underground music scene.
Zorn himself was an on-and-off resident of the country for
some years. Many of the Japanese musicians, meanwhile, had
either lived in New York or toured there over the years.
Laswells and Zorns Tokyo Rotation residency pairs
them with some of Japans more colorful improvisers.
The gigs have gone so well in recent years that Laswell and
Zorn this year decided to expand what had been a two-day event
into a five-night extravaganza. We started out doing
it just for fun, and to collaborate with musicians in Japan,
offers Laswell. Then it kind of turned into something
that could be a little more developed when we saw that we
were getting a good audience.
and producer Bill Laswell has been following Japan's
underground music since 1983
The place is very small, and its interesting
to play in small places after playing to a festival audience.
Something happens between the audience and musicians in a
small venue, and its always fun to do that.
The five nights match Laswell and Zorn with a shifting cast
of musicians that includes iconoclastic trumpeter Toshinori
Kondo, laptop guru Ikue Mori, and free-thinking drummer from
Rovo, Hideo Yamaki, just to name a few. The third night serves
as a CD release party for yet another Laswell-Japan project,
Soup, a trio with experimental guitarist Yoshihide Otomo and
drummer Yasuhiro Yoshigaki.
Laswell says the challengeand the rewardat Pit
Inn is to come up with something different each night. Its
totally improvised: the idea is to try and develop different
languages and sub-languages within these groups. So there
is in a sense a repertoire, but its improvised, and
because its improvised it has the potential to go places
no one would expect.
Long known as a wide-ranging musician and improviser who pushes
musical boundaries, Laswell, 49, has been in the public eye
since the early 80s for his work with musical melting-pot
units like Material, his instantly recognizable subterranean
bass playing on albums for Mick Jagger and Peter Gabriel,
and for his groundbreaking work as a producer of over 700
albums such as, among others, Herbie Hancocks electro
smash hit, Sound-System, which won him a Grammy.
Laswell says being an improviser allows him to approach his
production work, which most recently included a Sting song
for the Olympic soundtrack, in unorthodox ways. The
live playingbecause so much is improvisedI think
is a really good influence on the production, because you
find yourself not treating recorded music so differently.
You have the option to do it again or arrange it differently,
but I think its good to keep it fresh. It adds a random
element to it, which can make it interesting or exciting.
Even with a project like Tabla Beat Science, which pairs him
with masters of musical traditions such as Indian tabla maestro
Zakir Hussain, Laswell eschews a studied approach. I
chose not to learn to play the music, in order to create a
contrast. I dont at all try to mimic what they do any
more than the turntable is trying to be a tabla. So we try
to make contrasts, and thats what makes it an interesting
group: everyone brings something different. Im not someone
who really studies music, Im more interested in getting
right to the interaction with the individuals.
As much a musical fixer as he is bassist or producer,
Laswell, through his many projects and record labels, tries
to manifest a larger vision. I think my priority is
always going to be to try to expose certain music that was
an influence or had value, or artists that havent always
had the right opportunities. Ive tried to create opportunities
for people to make recordings and do concerts, and have been
very conscious of introducing people who might be able to
do something together or who might be able to come up with
something new, no matter how different their backgrounds.
Sep 22-26, 8 & 10pm, ¥5,000
(adv), ¥5,500 (door). Shinjuku Pit Inn. Tel: 03-3354-2024.
credit: Slam Unagami
with METROPOLIS readers at http://forum.japantoday.com