Groove Armada eat your fashionable hearts out. Sometime Johnny Rotten collaborator and bonkers bassist Jah Wobble gets together with jazz and dub producer Bill Laswell for seven tracks of alienesque relaxation, somehow utilising three drummers and a Senegalese percussionist, two trumpeteers and two synth wizards in the process. The end result is dub-inspired chill-out room music at its best.
For anyone who has reneged on following Wobble’s career path closely since he was the bassist of Public Image Ltd (the band Johnny Rotten formed when The Sex Pistols finally exploded into death and destruction), this may come as a surprise. In fact, Wobble left PIL in 1980 after differences with guitarist Keith Levine and Johnny Rotten, now named John Lydon, and founded a solo career, collaborating with a bewildering assortment of artists such as Jaki Liebezeit and U2‘s The Edge.
His career took a bizarre turn in the late ’80s, however, and he found himself sweeping London Underground stations for a living; one of the more bewildering ways to assert a musical talent. Forming a band called Invaders Of The Heart and picking up music from Africa and the Middle East appeared to revitalise him and before long he was back in the thick of the music industry, recording three albums which allowed him to collaborate with Baaba Maal, Natacha Atlas, Dolores O’Riordon, Chaka Demus, Primal Scream, Brian Eno, Björk, The Shamen, The Orb, Massive Attack and Sinead O’Connor, to name but a few. His album Heaven and Earth, produced by one Bill Laswell, the man who recently interpreted Miles Davis songs to huge acclaim on the album Panthalassa, was acclaimed in the broadsheets and the music industry inkies alike as an outstanding record.
Laswell is no stranger to musical fame either, releasing several solo records per year in the jazz and dub arenas while also producing for the likes of Buckethead, Pete Namlook and Dub Syndicate. He’s also a rather well-known bassist, providing four strings for Peter Gabriel, Laurie Anderson, Mick Jagger and Yoko Ono, to name but four, and somehow he also manages to find the time to run Axiom Records, the label he founded in 1990.
What we have then with Radioaxiom is in some ways business as usual for these two enormous, unique and highly influential talents – slickly produced, imaginitive and subliminal dub beats centred on bass, washed by jazzy trumpets and background effects, marrying talent for diversity with an ability to perfectly judge a single instrument’s effects on the whole sonic soundscape.
Both Wobble (real name John Wardle) and Laswell take turns at playing bass and veer curiously close to Ozric Tentacles territory with the looped bass built on with effects blocks. The philosophical thinking appears similar too, for when Ozrics chaps Merv and Joie left to form Eat Static, their cover art was all about spacecraft and alien abductions rather than Ozrics’ psychedelic phantasmagorica. Laswell describes Radioaxiom as an “alien broadcast” in which he tries to capture the feeling of encountering “traces of a lost future”.
The ensuing sense of spontaneity has been possible because of the talents of the musicians involved here, including Graham Haynes and Nils Petter on trumpet duties and Nicky Skopelitis’s complex guitar melodies. Although Wobble and Laswell dominate the writing credits, they’ve clearly allowed the studio sessions to define the final product and have in so doing engaged the special traits of each of their collaborators.
That the album is only seven tracks in length should not fool you, for each track is between five and eight minutes of sheer, towering ambient bliss bordering on trance. A defining ethnicity runs throughout, from the vocalisations of Ethiopian singer Ejigayehu Shibabaw to Senegalese percussionist Aiyb Dieng. It is such a relaxing album that one could be forgiven for overlooking how easy Wobble and Laswell make this stuff sound to make; but make no mistake, this is a special record. Go buy it.