I find true joy in sharing good beats, music and art and hope you have enjoyed the posts on Fela. As we are doing a music oriented week, I thought it would be fitting to share with you a review of the CD that was released with my book Spent.
Review Written by: Bill Murphy
In this high-speed 21st-century digital age, it’s easy to forget all the fundamental human connections-to nature, to inner contemplation, to creativity at play-that have quietly sustained us for generations. One of the most vital of these connections has to do with rhythm; a heart can’t beat without it, a body can’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 it’s this theme, along with the therapy, that producer and bassist Bill Laswell kept in mind when he compiled the book’s companion CD Spent: Beats to Bring You Back. From sleep cycles to food intake to body stretching, there’s an underlying beat, always slowed-down and steady, that accompanies each step of Lipman’s restorative regimen-so why not come up with a soundtrack to guide the user, mapping out a musical odyssey toward a healthier life?
“Frank is familiar with a lot of music,” Laswell notes, “and a lot of what he knows about me is through projects I’ve done that are related to what’s called ‘world music’-especially African and Indian music. Rhythm is his particular interest, and I think he’s using rhythm to say that the human body is full of movement. There’s always something going on. People have said it-John Cage even said there’s no such thing as silence because you’ll always hear your nervous system and your bloodflow. You can never really get away from it.”
And why would we want to? When we respond on a gut level to rhythm, we’re taking part in something as natural-and essential-as walking or breathing. “I grew up with African music playing in my kitchen,” Lipman explains, recalling his childhood in South Africa. “You 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 didn’t realize it at the time, the people there had to live in accordance with nature’s rhythms. In the big city, we tend to live out-of-sync with that, so the ailments that I see among my patients-fatigue, insomnia, muscle aches, indigestion-the people who lived in these villages just didn’t have these problems. That’s where music, rhythm and health started to come together for me.”
The belief that music can be imbued with curative powers is an ancient one, and for that very reason, it’s a notion that’s completely out of step with the demands of today’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 Hancock’s “Rockit,” for starters), but whose voluminous body of work casts a wide net that embraces musical traditions-and various notions about the mysterious and unquantifiable magic of music-from all over the world.
Spent converses in these styles-the trance-inducing rhythms and buoyant melodies of West and East Africa, the dreamlike tala excursions of India, the celebratory jaunts of Cuba and Jamaica-with the soothing cadence of an old and trusted friend. But don’t mistake this for a mere “new age” recording with a soft touch; there’s a heady dose of narrative color that unites all the pieces here.
The depth and lushness of Laswell’s signature production stroke also shines through, especially in “NafekeÃ±,” Gigi’s stirring ode to her native Ethiopia, and in the spatial echoes of Zakir Hussain’s tabla drums on the classic “Lost Roads,” from Laswell’s 1988 solo project Hear No Evil. Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin and Senegalese singer Baaba Maal lift “Haayo” to dizzying heights, while jazz legend Pharoah Sanders sounds out the otherworldly strains of a whistling desert wind on “Restored.”
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.
“I like the idea that it doesn’t stop,” Laswell observes. “This 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 don’t want to stop and say, ‘Well, why is this space here?’ It’s supposed to be one continuous experience. And for the most part it’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. I’m not sure you can really forget something that’s in you.”
Even in our hyper-modernized culture, the importance of music and rhythm hasn’t necessarily been forgotten, but there’s no doubt that at the very least, it’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.
“I think in other cultures, music is more ingrained into everything,” he says, “whether it’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 Bill-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. They’re doing it through their music, and that’s as powerful a reconnection to good health as any other you can find.”