Material, a loose conglomeration of musicians that expands and contracts around the nucleus of bassist and producer Bill Laswell, has passed through two basic stages: the early stage, when Laswell shared helmsman duties with keyboardist and occasional singer Michael Beinhorn, and the post-Beinhorn stage, which saw the band move from its earlier aggressive, funk-oriented avant-rock sound to a more cosmic, ambient and African flavor. Live in Japan documents three concert dates from August of 1992, when Material was well into the post-Beinhorn stage and was working in a very Afrocentric mode. In fact, the central character in these performances is not Laswell himself, but rather the singer and kora player Foday Musa Suso; other musicians include such Material semi-regulars as keyboardist Bernie Worrell (whose organ solos open and close the album), guitarist Nicky Skopelitis, and ex-Cream drummer Ginger Baker. It's a great lineup, and one that should have delivered much more musical interest than it does on this album. "Leaving Earth" is a six-and-a-half minute meditation on a one-chord riff; more than just boring, it's also badly recorded. "Desert Star" is an improvement, with a nice interplay of fretless bass and a bowed African stringed instrument in a much improved mix. And "Out of Dreamtime" affords more dynamic variety, but it leads into an eleven-minute percussion solo which is well executed but drags on forever. Overall, this is a disappointing disc that could and should have been much better.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Rick Anderson