Always one to be courting controversy due to his alleged radical treatment of music, Laswell released two albums of remixes from dead artists – Bob Marley's Dreams of Freedom on Axiom and Miles Davis Panthalassa. The first contained airy, ambient dub translations of some of Marley's Island catalog, largely sans Marley's voice. Chris Blackwell, largely the man responsible for bringing Marley to the masses in the 1970s, requested the album as part of a planned series of remix albums by various producers who were rooted in the reggae/dub tradition. Blackwell's departure from Island killed any further albums.
For Panthalassa, Laswell took the tapes from Miles' "electric period" and re-imagined them, the impetus for the project being that the original releases were just mixes made by Teo Macero from long in-studio sessions. Nothing originally released was necessarily exactly what was done in the studio, but rather a cut-up and remix to begin with. Needless to say, critic and fan responses varied wildly, with Laswell and Macero conducting a public feud in the media.
The late 1990s saw two other major changes. As noted before, Chris Blackwell left Island Records. Although he took the Axiom imprint with him to his new Palm Pictures label, the back catalog stayed with Island. Many of the albums are now out of print, and efforts to obtain master recordings and new distribution have been unsuccessful. The other change came in the form of studio space. Laswell, seeing that Greenpoint had turned into a sort of living space for hangers-on, moved his studio to West Orange, New Jersey, calling it Orange Music Sound Studios.
Bill Laswell once said in Down Beat that "good music is just a product of searching for new things. The priority is really to grow and not kill the idea of self-expression, spontaneity, or experimenting with sound and music." As a bassist and producer, Laswell has pursued "good music" with a pragmatic eye and visionary heart. In ensembles such as Material and Last Exit, his musical philosophy has led him to the extremes of jazz, dance music, and rock experimentation. In production work that has ranged from Marrakeshian Gna-wa music to heavy metal band Motòrhead, Laswell has sought a unique sound to match what he considers the independence of the particular artists with whom he chooses to work.
A successful combination of noise, electronic experimentation, and dance rhythms in the production of Herbie Hancock’s 1983 hit "Rockit" attracted artists like Mick Jagger and Yoko Ono to Laswell, who produced their mid-1980s solo records. But popular success has been of less interest to Laswell than the years of "street" credibility he has attained through work with New York City jazz and rap musicians since the late 1970s. The bassist/producer’s commitment to unconventional, fiercely collaborative music found industry approval when he landed a 1990 deal with Island Records to manage a label devoted to world music, experimental jazz, and anarchic fusion. A tireless worker with a "jaded hipster" image, Laswell made Island’s Axiom and Ryko-disc’s Black Arc uncompromising places to search for new things—as well as places to rediscover the work of older visionaries like Cream’s Ginger Baker and P-Funk’s Bootsy Collins.
Nagual Site (1998)