1/  Encoded                                    (Laswell)                     4.57
  2/  Acid Test                                  (Laswell)                     4.26
  3/  Coma                                       (Laswell)                     4.39
  4/  Perimeter                                  (Laswell)                     6.37
  5/  Escape Clause                              (Laswell)                     3.48
  6/  Iron Black                                 (Laswell)                     3.33
  7/  Scatter                                    (Laswell)                     4.49
  8/  Enhanced                                   (Laswell)                     6.34

          Recorded and mixed at Orange Music, West Orange, New Jersey
          Engineered by Robert Musso
          Produced and arranged by Bill Laswell
          Material Inc.: John Brown
          Axiom: Bill Murphy
          META: Janet Rienstra
          Mastered at Turtle Tone Studio, NYC by Michael Fossenkemper
Bill Laswell: bass, guitar, keyboards, sounds; Nicky Skopelitis: guitar; Lance Carter: drums; Hassan Ibn Ali: samples; Dark Matter: samples; Robert Musso: programming.

          1999 - ION (USA), IN  2010-2 (CD)


If there's one thing Bill Laswell knows, it's depth. Whereas much contemporary electronic music prefers to skitter spastically on the surfaces in high frequencies, Laswell's recent electronic projects are all anchored by an unassailable bottom. The sound has back. What else could we expect from a bass player who cut his teeth in late '70s head-funk outfits like Material and Massacre? As aggressively diverse as Laswell's influences must be, the dominant mode in his last five years of musical output has unquestionably been dub. An soiled dub-- aeons from the Home Town Hi Fi sound system that Osbourne Ruddock hotwired to become King Tubby-- but dub all the same, marked by the same deep beat, spacy echoing and vertigo reverb.

This year's harrowing Invisible Design was something of a departure from the space- junk dub that Laswell has been overseeing for most of the decade. The "head's up" to Amon Tobin's lawyers aside, Laswell's Permutation returns him to the company of his old cronies: Nicky Skopelitis (aka Ekstasis), Hassan ibn Ali, and Dark Matter. The results aren't difficult to predict-- expertly played, dub- based world music, heavy on the reverb and cut with some solid drum-n-bass underneath. Ideal as a soundtrack for sludgy narcotized sex and all the requisite mind games that precede it.

Permutation has a great deal more gravity than the graceful but somewhat undernourished Ekstasis album, Wake Up and Dream, which is something of a predecessor. Skopelitis' warm and cautious guitar work is suspended over the abysmal depths of Laswell's bass and overall production technique, precarious as a rope footbridge. Sitar, tabla, wind instruments from every continent all add local color but the Laswell/ Skopelitis interchange remains the heart of the album.

Permutation takes some chances here and there, notably "Iron Black," a fuzzy, riff- powered space- rock tune which divides its time between Chemical Brothers- style big beat and the lysergic jams of Funkadelic. But for the most part, this record doesn't cohere thematically; rather, it sounds like an afternoon workout of five gifted musicians jamming with the tapes left rolling. There's othing urgent about Permutation, nothing necessary. You'll enjoy it, but you probably wouldn't pause it to take a piss.

This is the problem with so much of Laswell's recent output: its appeal is undeniable, its throb is unavoidable, but it demands very little. It has the quality of studio sessions, rather than a singular artistic statement. And this may come down to a question of policy. Laswell seems to value multiple solid releases annually over the possibility of a single great release every two years or so-- one that could conceivably be culled and constructed from the many great moments that wind up scattered throughout each year's reliable but rarely revolutionary handful.

Perhaps this is why Laswell's Invisible Design was so striking: its confessional candor, compositional rigor and disavowal of masks made it such a radical offering. None of Laswell's other works had anticipated his performance on that piece; by contrast, Permutation immediately takes its place among the glut of reliable world- dub samplers that Laswell has constructed over the last decade. Permutation still works wonders for that hazy funk- love that makes the world go round, but the clarion of Invisible Design continues to ring like Doomsday.

6.0/10...Has its moments, but isn't strong

Brent S. Sirota (courtesy of the Pitchfork Media website)