Sly, Miles and Jimi: the album

Too many musical heroes can spoil the broth, but not on Bill Laswell's latest funkathon. Mark Prendergast reports

Surprise, surprise - Bill Laswell has a new record coming out. Well, Bill Laswell always has a record coming out. Yet the New York producer and bass player, famous for his work with Mick Jagger, Motorhead and Herbie Hancock, has no interest in promoting his new product. Having spent a lot of time with his English record company, Island, setting up a phone connection to his Greenpoint studios in Brooklyn, the irascible Laswell picks up the phone and wonders: "Is this an interview? It's gonna be really difficult... Hum... I'm in the middle of a session..."

This has happened before. In fact, it happens on a regular basis, as Laswell is always in the middle of something. He has worked on no less than 200 albums since the late 1970s, the latest, Axiom Funk - Funkcronomicon, being about 25th in a series of records which celebrate, in his own words, "collision music". Funkcronomicon basically wraps the best of Laswell's funk jams with famous musicians like Bootsy Collins and George Clinton of Funkadelic fame, Sly Stone, Maceo Parker (renowned for his work with James Brown) and dub groovers Sly & Robbie into an enormous kaleidoscope where sizzling guitar rock and jungle beats both have a home. It's a soup - a mind-wrenching, gut-pulling concoction which seems haunted by the ghost of Jimi Hendrix. In fact, two tracks - "If Six Was Nine" and "Trumpets & Violins" are credited to the genius of the electric guitar.

One mention of Hendrix and Laswell forgets his session and starts talking. "I think a lot of the music on this record relates not so much to what people got to know about Hendrix but more to the things he was approaching and trying to do near the end of his life. Not a lot of people were aware of his interests and plans, the kind of projects he was working on when he died. It would have been quite disappointing to rock and roll people that he was playing with jazz musicians like Gil Evans and Rashaan Roland Kirk.

"He only scratched the surface of what his music could be, and also didn't have the opportunity to interface with musicians on a higher level. His attempts to work with Miles Davis and Tony Williams never really blossomed. If you go back and talk to people who knew him, the most interesting story about Hendrix was happening just at the point of his death. He was going to make a major step in a very different direction to what people expected."

Hendrix is vital to understanding Laswell. In a recent survey in Q, he praised Hendrix's debut, Are You Experienced, for its production sound and cited Jimi's unreleased and un-realised projects with Miles Davis and Gil Evans as some of the most remarkable albums never made. On Funkcronomicon, Laswell's catches Hendrix's spirit perfectly on a track titled "Pray My Soul", a "Little Wing"-styled ballad sumptuously rendered by the late Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazel. Last year, part of this track could be heard on another Laswell compilation called Axiom Ambient, whose "Peace" combined Hendrixalia by Hazel and another guitarist Sonny Sharrock. Sharrock was one of the few late 1960s players Hendrix admired and whom (after Hendrix fell out with Miles Davis over women and musical notation) Miles used on the brilliant fusion album Jack Johnson.

Having Sly Stone on Funkcronomicon is also apt, as Hendrix was booked for a jamming session with Sly & The Family Stone the night he died in London in 1970. Laswell thinks it all came together pretty well. "It's an idea which existed for many years. When it came together, Hendrix was the focal point. All the guys in Funkadelic - particularly Bernie Worrell and Bootsy Collins - always cite Hendrix as a major contributor to their language." Amid the more direct references to Hendrix, Funkcronomicon boasts some wicked grooves, like a version of James Brown's "Sex Machine". The double CD concludes with Eddie Hazel again intoning Hendrix to a celebratory black cultural poem by former Last Poet Umar Bin Hassin. At this stage, you can figure that Bill Laswell's Funkcronomicon is no ordinary record.

Laswell ponders the public perception of what he does. "People have thought of me as heavy metal, and for a while they thought of me as ambient. Now they'll think of me as funk. I've been involved in everything - avant- garde, improvisation, electronic music. What I'm really into is not labels or equipment; it's always intuition and instinct. If the music ain't natural, it ain't real - you're kidding somebody."

This is why Laswell travels a lot, recording on the run in the Far East, North Africa, central Asia; teaming up with the likes of The Orb and Pete Namlock and releasing records in a sort of guerrilla-style attack on the conventional music business structure. "I get the opportunity to play with the greatest musicians in the world, and though much of it won't have a place in the charts, I do it because I feel positive about it. There's a lot of possibilities and there are a lot of records because of that."

Laswell's next release will be titled Axiom Dub - Mysteries of Creation and will involve Sly & Robbie, Adrian Sherwood and Tim Simenon from Bomb The Bass, and musicians in the Brooklyn hip-hop movement. The 45-year- old workaholic sees no end to his music-making. "There are too many records these days and too many people in record companies. What I'm absolutely sure about is that there's not enough music of quality and experience. There's a lot of bullshit. If people remain open and listen, they'll hear a music which creates an environment, an atmosphere and an experience. I hope it's only the beginning of this type of work because it's as endless as space."

n 'Axiom Funk - Funkcronomicon' is released by Island on 31 July

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project