Compiled by producer Bill Laswell, the meditative rhythms of Spent: Beats to Bring You Back define a healing journey of movementâ€”the ultimate audio companion to Spent the book.
In this high-speed 21st-century digital age, itâ€™s easy to forget all the fundamental human connectionsâ€”to nature, to inner contemplation, to creativity at playâ€”that have quietly sustained us for generations. One of the most vital of these connections has to do with rhythm; a heart canâ€™t beat without it, a body canâ€™t function without it, and yet many of the thoroughly modern go-getters among us seem to have pushed it out of our everyday lives in favor of a much more frenetic, fractured, stressful and, in the end, exhausting mode of existence.
This state of fatigue is what Dr. Frank Lipman addresses in his new book Spent: End Exhaustion and Feel Great Again, and itâ€™s this theme, along with the therapy, that producer and bassist Bill Laswell kept in mind when he compiled the bookâ€™s companion CD Spent: Beats to Bring You Back. From sleep cycles to food intake to body stretching, thereâ€™s an underlying beat, always slowed-down and steady, that accompanies each step of Lipmanâ€™s restorative regimenâ€”so why not come up with a soundtrack to guide the user, mapping out a musical odyssey toward a healthier life?
â€œFrank is familiar with a lot of music,â€ Laswell notes, â€œand a lot of what he knows about me is through projects Iâ€™ve done that are related to whatâ€™s called â€˜world musicâ€™â€”especially African and Indian music. Rhythm is his particular interest, and I think heâ€™s using rhythm to say that the human body is full of movement. Thereâ€™s always something going on. People have said itâ€”John Cage even said thereâ€™s no such thing as silence because youâ€™ll always hear your nervous system and your bloodflow. You can never really get away from it.â€
And why would we want to? When we respond on a gut level to rhythm, weâ€™re taking part in something as naturalâ€”and essentialâ€”as walking or breathing. â€œI grew up with African music playing in my kitchen,â€ Lipman explains, recalling his childhood in South Africa. â€œYou just get used to that beat, and for that reason I think rhythm got imprinted on me at an early age. Later on, when I worked in one of the tribal homelands in KwaNdebele, although I didnâ€™t realize it at the time, the people there had to live in accordance with natureâ€™s rhythms. In the big city, we tend to live out-of-sync with that, so the ailments that I see among my patientsâ€”fatigue, insomnia, muscle aches, indigestionâ€”the people who lived in these villages just didnâ€™t have these problems. Thatâ€™s where music, rhythm and health started to come together for me.â€
The belief that music can be imbued with curative powers is an ancient one, and for that very reason, itâ€™s a notion thatâ€™s completely out of step with the demands of todayâ€™s music business, where the value of music is measured more by its commercial appeal than by its ability to heal. Fortunately, Lipman found a kindred spirit in Laswell, who has had his commercial successes (with Herbie Hancockâ€™s â€œRockit,â€ for starters), but whose voluminous body of work casts a wide net that embraces musical traditionsâ€”and various notions about the mysterious and unquantifiable magic of musicâ€”from all over the world.
Spent converses in these stylesâ€”the trance-inducing rhythms and buoyant melodies of West and East Africa, the dreamlike tala excursions of India, the celebratory jaunts of Cuba and Jamaicaâ€”with the soothing cadence of an old and trusted friend. But donâ€™t mistake this for a mere â€œnew ageâ€ recording with a soft touch; thereâ€™s a heady dose of narrative color that unites all the pieces here.
The depth and lushness of Laswellâ€™s signature production stroke also shines through, especially in â€œNafekeÃ±,â€ Gigiâ€™s stirring ode to her native Ethiopia, and in the spatial echoes of Zakir Hussainâ€™s tabla drums on the classic â€œLost Roads,â€ from Laswellâ€™s 1988 solo project Hear No Evil. Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin and Senegalese singer Baaba Maal lift â€œHaayoâ€ to dizzying heights, while jazz legend Pharoah Sanders sounds out the otherworldly strains of a whistling desert wind on â€œRestored.â€
Other tracks feature key performances from the impressive list of percussionists Laswell has worked with over the years, including Daniel Ponce, Trilok Gurtu and Aiyb Dieng. From beginning to end, the music of Spent can foster an environment for beat-driven movement and mind-travel, or it can just as easily downshift into a sanctum for quiet contemplation.
â€œI like the idea that it doesnâ€™t stop,â€ Laswell observes. â€œThis CD was meant to be a continuous listen. You have cue points where you can punch up a track, but I thought if it is like a journey, then you donâ€™t want to stop and say, â€˜Well, why is this space here?â€™ Itâ€™s supposed to be one continuous experience. And for the most part itâ€™s rhythmic music, so a lot of it implies nature, which implies where you are. Everyone has heard it, whether they think they may have forgotten it or not. Iâ€™m not sure you can really forget something thatâ€™s in you.â€
Even in our hyper-modernized culture, the importance of music and rhythm hasnâ€™t necessarily been forgotten, but thereâ€™s no doubt that at the very least, itâ€™s been temporarily misplaced. Taking it further, Lipman sees the music of Spent as a means to recover something in ourselves that has been desperately lacking, and he sees the work of artists like Laswell as the catalyst.
â€œI think in other cultures, music is more ingrained into everything,â€ he says, â€œwhether itâ€™s for funerals or weddings or any number of things. Music and dance are not just for entertainment like they are in the west.
And the thing is, when you talk to someone like Billâ€”to me, these guys are shamans. I know some people might take that as an odd connotation, but Bill and people like him are healers. Theyâ€™re doing it through their music, and thatâ€™s as powerful a reconnection to good health as any other you can find.â€