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js (Easy Money)
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars Although Bill Laswell's work can often sound phoned-in from some massive cookie cutter factory where the latest in hip-hop, world beat and ambient techno get diced and spliced into some trendy name and pre-fab packaging, that's not even remotely the case with this release in 1993 under his band name of Material. Hallucination Engine has plenty of something that is often missing from Laswell projects, memorable melodies. Unlike much of Laswell's other projects, Engine is full of powerful ancient melodies that seem to carry the emotional weight of the centuries. Likewise this album also stands apart from his usual output because it sounds like he spent a lot more time with this one. Although Laswell cuts almost always have that irresistible 'world groove' to them, on this album Bill takes the extra step and care and surrounds those grooves with excellent arrangements full of breaks, alternate melodies and texture change-ups.

Side one contains four somewhat similar down tempo tunes that blend together in a deep orchestrated chill symphony that carries the somber feel of an ancient religious ceremony. Each cut favors middle-eastern tinged violin or rustic open-tuned guitar melodies framed by gorgeous electronic textures and drop-beat sections where the always present ambience takes over. The dub tune Ruins in particular has a lengthy ambient section in which beautiful cascading chord sequences drift by in a sentimental look back to the hey day of late 60s progressive rock when modulating string/choir synthesizers ruled the land. This side closes with Shadows of Paradise in which Nicky Skopelis' post-rock styled open guitar textures set the mood and intertwine with Wayne Shorter's classic tenor lines.

Side two opener, Words of Advice, breaks the reverent mood with some great spoken word from the very irreverent William Burroughs. Definitely tongue in cheek, Words has one of those classic old school gangsta grooves like The Soprano's Theme or Ice T's You Played Yourself. Burroughs is the mac daddy here and he's stepped out of the limo to lay down some grim warnings about boy/girl fights, prostitutes and 'religious SOBs' who want your money. Despite the emotional change of pace, this is my favorite cut on the album and is one of those classics that will transcend it's time if it is not forgotten. Laswell follows this changeup with more fun in the form of a Indo-ragga/hip-hop remake of Weather Report's classic Cucumber Slumber.

After this change of pace, the last two cuts on side two return to the deeply reflective and almost sentimental nature of side one to great effect. The fact that Laswell can effectively blend these last two tunes with Coltrane's classic Naima says much for how much emotional weight Bill's music is carrying. I've never heard anyone else make an effective cover of Naima before, much less have the ability to bridge it's stark emotional quality with music of their own making. Once again the ambient music surrounding his take on Naima recalls the early days of sentimental progressive rock keyboard orchestrations.

This is an incredible album and stands far above Bill Laswell's usual paint by number world dub groove whatever. Most of this album is as serious and sobering as a requiem, yet there is that one cut where William Burrough's drops in with a sly wink and some sage advice about prostitutes and flim flam artists. Excellent and very moving album, highly recommended.

Report this review (#264807)
Posted Sunday, February 7, 2010 | Review Permalink
Retired Admin
5 stars Marmalade Skies

Imagine a dreamy instrumental collaboration between The Future Sound of London and Massive Attack being scooped up by the jazzy edgy duo of Bill Laswell and Wayne Shorter. Yes you're getting closer to Hallucination Engine but not quite there yet.

Listed here under fusion, I'd like to think that stickers in regards to this mother simply fall short of any meaningful explanations. You won't find any real box befitting of this fantastic venture in sonic dreams. Ethnic IDM fusion???? Nahhh...... This is real progressive music right here, even if it's miles away from the prog rock of the 70s - or 80s, 90s and 00s for that matter. This is about splicing unorthodox styles of music together, and then shaping it into that ever so seductive Material unit. Bill Laswell is the main engine behind all of it, and while you hear and feel the smoothness of the man's bass - his effortlessly played phrasings, you're just as likely going to gape at his hip and youthful beats, loops and samples. I don't know whether Laswell was an avid fan of The Future Sound of London - as Fripp was, but I sure get a similar vibe in those beats - those velvety soundscapes that more than anything feel like warm radiant sunlight cascading in over your body like a rolling wave of feel good vibe. Breathtaking stuff to say the least, and when you then add the saxophone stylings of Wayne Shorter, who sounds like a serene Yoga teacher with his lofty and ethereal spurts of beauty, - you are truly in for a treat unlike any you've come across before.

Continuing to infuse originality and vibrant umph into Hallucination Engine - you get like 40.000 tons of Indian spirit lashed onto the rhythm section, and that is without it ever coming off as a raga - or like something traditionally eastern. L. Shankar's emotional violin stints break through the barrier and joins in with the melody makers of the album, but most of the Indian spice here, is conveyed through the gorgeous tabla playing of Zakir Hussain and Trilok Gurtu. Together with the electronics the album reaches unknown heights of beauty, and the unlikely marriage of robotic electronic wisdom and earthy incessant rhythms suddenly feel like a trip to Goa - riding a huge stork with built in stereo. What the feel of this reminds me of, is the Massive Attack tune called Antistar from the brilliant 100th Window album - menacing yet soothing. A floating effervescent Indian veil pulled over the music, that takes you places only your stork chauffeur knows...

Oh you want more get-down on it bass mastery? Big fat zooming string work - thick like shoelaces! Well apart from Laswell, you also get served with the low-rider funk hero Bootsy Collins, who on here is credited with the space bass. HAHA YES!!!!!!! Beautiful, I love it! And as if that wasn't enough for you, the Swedish prodigy Jonas Hellborg additionally lends a helping hand. Needless to say that the bass now safely is taken care of.

Hmmh, I can tell that you're not quite there yet - not quite sold.............Then what about a small cameo from the man himself - the black rider, the man who eats his lunch naked and continues to draw in the young and restless outcasts - the filth of society: good ol' William Burroughs? Opening up the second side is the aptly named Words of Advice, that in usual penetrating and sharp Burroughs behaviour proceeds to teach you a thing or two about the 'stuff' you preferably shouldn't do nor trust:

"People often ask me if I have any words of advice for young people. Well here are a few simple admonitions for young and old. Never intefere in a boy-and-girl fight. Beware of whores who say they don't want money. The hell they don't. What they mean is they want more money. Much more. If you're doing business with a religious son-of-a-bitch, Get it in writing. His word isn't worth sh*t. Not with the good lord telling him how to f*ck you on the deal." - Burroughs

The words here melt together with the music like slowly oozing lava, and the staccato and dry voice of Bill develops wings and suddenly starts floating away. This is the remarkable feat of Material: everything is so wonderfully gooey and friendly. It almost approaches lounge jazz, but then again those electronics coupled up with the Indian flavourings - simply take this thing to another level. It's like that all the way through. The Beatles once wrote about marmalade skies, and this is surely the actual proof of said fantasy constellation. A rolling slithering musical substance of unknown ingredients.

If you're into IDM, fusion or ethnic music - this record is the best thing out there. I've honestly never heard anything like it, and I probably won't. Hallucination Engine is the very essence of why I am here: Discovery. Musical discovery that seduces me, wraps around me and stays with me long after the final note has played itself out. This album did that for me - it reminded me of what music can be and what it can achieve.

A masterpiece of modern music, quite simply.

Report this review (#801572)
Posted Tuesday, August 7, 2012 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars 4.5 stars. MATERIAL evolved out of the remains of Daevid Allen's New York Gong project. Bill Laswell is the main man here as he had a part in the writing and arranging of all of these compositions except that WEATHER REPORT song "Cucumber Slumber" that they cover here. He's also the Producer and adds bass, effects, loops, beats and more. There are 20 musicians helping out in this ambitious release including bass player extraordinaire Jonas Hellborg, SHAKTI violinist L. Shankar, World famous tabla player Zakir Hussain and Wayne Shorter himself on a variety of saxes. There is a very strong Indian vibe to the music thanks to Hussain, Shankar and many others who are from the India region. Even vocally we get lyrics in the Indian language. So you could call this World Music but it's also jazzy. There are instruments used on here that I've never heard of let alone knowing what they sound like, so this is a bit of a nightmare trying to describe what I'm hearing. The music is exotic and very catchy with some absolutely killer atmospheric passages.

"Black Light" has this spacey and spooky intro then sax arrives a minute in followed by a full sound. Nice. I like the bass here. This sax driven melody is so catchy that I was singing it at work one evening as I had been just listening to it as I pulled in. Shorter is fantastic here but there's so much going on. A calm before 6 minutes with ethnic sounds then it kicks back in a minute later. "Mantra" has this dark atmosphere to start with electronics. It kicks in just before 2 minutes signaled by this shrill Indian instrument. Percussion and beats as drums and bass follow. Catchy and oh so trippy. Man that bass sounds good. "Ruins(Submutation Dub)" has ethnic female vocals, bass, drums, atmosphere and more. There's what sounds like a slow reggae beat that will come and go throughout. Violin plays over top. It turns haunting after 4 1/2 minutes then the bass returns at 6 minutes. That beat with female vocals is back. There's that reggae beat created by the piano this time. The violin is back as themes are repeated.

"Eternal Drift" is my favourite track. Haunting flute-like sounds, female vocal melodies and more. The guitar comes in as well. Love this stuff. That guitar line melts me as it brings back the eighties for me. It picks up around 2 minutes and then the sax arrives as drums, bass and percussion helps out. When Shorter stops we get such a flavoured soundscape. Curry anyone? Shorter is back after 4 minutes. "Words Of Advice" seems to get talked about more than the music but this drops it a half star for me. It seems so out of place on here. Anyway it's funny advice for young and old but it reminds me of back in the day listening to comedy records. After several listens the jokes weren't that funny any more while I find the opposite is true with music, the more you play the better it gets. As he speaks we get a chilled out jazz backdrop.

"Cucumber Slumber(Fluxis Mix)" is of course from "Mysterious Traveller" that great WEATHER REPORT album. Atmosphere and haunting vocal melodies to start as percussion, electronics and more kick in quickly. Ahhh this sounds familiar 2 minutes in when Shorter arrives. Check it out 6 minutes in with so many sounds happening at once. A groovy tune. "The Hidden Garden/ Naima" features lots of exotic sounds including orchestral ones. Male vocals too and they're Indian I believe. A beat joins in. Catchy stuff man. It starts to settle right down 8 1/2 minutes in as the second part of the song arrives. No beat or groove here just atmosphere as sporadic sounds come and go the rest of the way. "Shadows Of Paradise" opens with atmosphere and violin. This is a dreamy section. A beat before 2 1/2 minutes as it picks up. I love how this sounds after 8 minutes although the unending violin gets a little annoying. A calm a minute later to the end.

I've grown to love this album despite not being big on World Music, it's just so inventive yet catchy. One of the best releases from 1994 no doubt.

Report this review (#1545035)
Posted Sunday, March 27, 2016 | Review Permalink

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