Laswell has been termed a "postmodern Renaissance man," founding the Axiom label in 1988 through a partnership with Island Records, establishing Greenpoint Studio (1990), pursuing new directions in the fusion of jazz, rock, and funk both as a producer and with his own band, Material. Born in Salem, Illinois, and raised in Detroit, where he performed in funk groups, he moved to New York City in 1978. Formed at the outset to accompany former Gong frontman, Daevid Allen, on a U.S. tour, Material would become a forum for his musical experiments. Built around keyboardist Michael Beinhorn, drummer Fred Maher, and himself on bass, the group has negotiated many styles—including world music, avant garde jazz, ambient music, hip-hop, and mutant rock—and collaborated with many artists (e.g., Nona Hendryx, Sonny Sharrock, Fred Frith, Henry Threadgill, Archie Shepp, Nile Rodgers, Whitney Houston, William Burroughs). Although outside the pop mainstream, Material’s recordings—Temporary Music (Celluloid; 1981), American Songs EP (Red Music; 1981), Busting Out EP (ZE/Island, 1981), Memory Serves (Celluloid/Elektra Musician 1-66042; 1982), One Down (Celluloid/Elektra; 1982), Red Tracks (Red; 1986), Seven Souls (Virgin 2-91360; 1989), The Third Power (Axiom 422-848 417-2; 1991), Live in Japan (Restless; 1994), and Hallucination Engine (Axiom; 1994)—remain required listening for adventurous listeners.
Laswell has been widely sought after both as a session player and producer. He contributed bass on Laurie Anderson’s Mr. Heartbreak ( 1982) and has gone on to play with the Golden Palominos, Last Exit, the Last Poets.Brian Eno, David Byrne, Peter Gabriel, Fela Kuti, John Zorn, Bootsy Collins, and Buckethead, among others. In 1983 he cowrote and produced Herbie Hancock’s hit, "Rockit" (), and won a Grammy for his work on Hancock’s follow-up album, Sound-System (). His production of the hip-hop single "World Destruction" (), featuring Africa Bambaataa and Johnny Lydon, also garnered considerable praise. Since then, he has produced a diversified array of artists, including Sly (Dunbar) and Robbie (Shakespeare), Mick Jagger Motorhead, Iggy Pop, the Ramones, and Yellowman. [Romanowski and George-Warren. 1995]
|Back to Table of Contents|