‘It’s a funny old world’, I thought when, earlier today, I happened across a copy of a book I’d wanted to read for some time in my local library.
Val Wilmer’s ‘As Serious As Your Life’ was published in 1977 with revisions in 1992. It had been on my reading list for a while and I’d seen a reference to it in the last week. Little did I think it would appear so quickly. But appear it did, in the Black History Month section.
In her 1999 preface, Wilmer wrote: ‘And although the details have never emerged, it is generally believed that Henry Grimes died in California in the 1970’s’.
As my regular readers will recall, the truth is that Henry Grimes merely went away, only to reappear in the early years of the Millenium. Indeed, he is appearing in New York with Marc Ribot on New Year’s Eve. I’ve just enjoyed revisiting The Marc Ribot Trio’s Live At The Village Vanguard. You can read the extraordinary tale of his re-emergence at Henry Grimes’ website. There are also plenty of performance links there too.
I’m sure the excellent Wilmer is aware that Henry Grimes remains hale and hearty following his sojourn but in her 1999 edition she explained that she would not be making any further revisions and would allow her book to stand, minor blemishes and all, as a social document.
(A2 screenprint sold via Cafe Oto- see link below. Permission granted for use here).
Marc Ribot is a brilliant guitarist and composer, whose last two releases have been reviewed here at downwithit, most recently, in March 2016, when I looked at his Young Philadelphians project (which you can read about here).
The diverse musical interests of this artist have resulted in him having an extensive and wide-ranging back catalogue of recordings. These include film scores; free-jazz; classical guitar; New York avant-garde; Cuban; funk and session work with an impressive list of artists. I was looking forward to this show, which was the first of two at this London venue but I was curious and indeed slightly apprehensive about what aspects of his repertoire would be featured.
This was my first visit to Cafe Oto which is located a couple of hundred metres from Dalston Junction Overground Station in a street that shows signs of recent changes of use from commercial to residential and entertainment and which now hosts a theatre and a couple of interesting bars, including Cafe Oto. The venue concentrates on cutting-edge music that is rarely heard elsewhere. My fellow audience members were an older, urban crowd drawn from the thoughtful and knowledgable segment of concertgoers. Conversations around me in the long line outside the club centered on gallery openings and other arts related matters and I felt confident that Ribot was going to be received with rapt attention for this sold-out performance.
A support slot was provided by Paul Abbott (drums) and Pat Thomas (piano). Back in the 80’s I saw Cecil Taylor play an extremely challenging set at Ronnie Scott’s. It was not to my taste and was 90 minutes of my life that could have been put to better use. For this set I was fortunate to be able to have a very clear view of the keyboard and, for this non-pianist, seeing exactly what Pat Thomas was doing made this free form performance intelligible. Thomas played keyboards on the Black Top album that I looked at back in August 2014 and it was good to have an opportunity to see him play live. The single long piece that they delivered had much of the complexity of a fiery late John Coltrane composition like Interstellar Space, although I felt it took on a degree of predictability towards its conclusion as I found myself having a very clear idea of where the duo were taking us. Perhaps I’m more open to less conventionally structured music these days so I have to say that I enjoyed this live set, although in my opinion it was music best heard in a live setting rather than something that would easily fit with my home listening.
It was soon time for Marc Ribot who played a single well worn-in steel strung acoustic guitar throughout the entire performance. His set included two pieces by classical composer Frantz Casseus and a John Zorn number which involved ‘preparation’ of the guitar using an additional bridge and what looked like a nail file and playing utilising a steel bottle neck, a bow and several balloons. As you may assume, this did sound most unconventional but was well received within the context of Ribot’s show. Overall, his playing entranced and shook away the cares of the world. There was no direct reference to the music of Young Philadelphians or to Albert Ayler but I was more than happy with the artist’s own choice of material.
Marc Ribot showed that he is a virtuoso guitarist, in complete command of his instrument and willing to forge out beyond the conventional range of the guitar. He can play beautifully but can also present the sour with the sweet in a way which stretches and enriches the listener’s metaphorical palate. I enjoyed myself tremendously and will be the first in the queue for tickets next time he plays at a venue near me. If you enjoy great guitar you may want to do the same.
The image is by Oliver Barrett from photos by Dawid Laskowski. It was formerly available from Cafe Oto While stocks lasted.
Time for another review from a contemporary artist. We last met up with Marc Ribot on his Live At The Village Vanguard recording released in 2014. At that stage, amongst a myriad of projects, he was also working as part of a trio dedicated to revisiting and reprising the work of Albert Ayler. It was a refreshingly full-blooded affair that you can read about here.
This time round Ribot presents us with a different genre mash-up on an album which serves up seven tunes from the Gamble and Huff Philadelphia International soul school of the mid 1970’s. There is a twist though as he has enlisted bass guitarist Jamaaladee Tacuma and drummer G. Calvin Weston from Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time to produce and lay down a raw performance that is firmly located at the punk edge of the funk spectrum. It’s the wilder and rougher relative of the manicured orchestration of classic Philly, but it works.
Love Epidemic was recorded by Trammps in the early 1970’s. The title is somewhat ironic given the emergence of AIDS in the 1980″s but I expect the band were singing of something with a life-affirming rather than health-threatening intent. This is funky with blistering guitars.
Love TKO retains the silky soul feel of Teddy Pendergrass’s original and is played with great sensitivity by the two guitarists, with the ghost of Jimi Hendrix being channeled in towards the end.
Fly, Robin Fly was a hit for German Euro-disco outfit Silver Convention and flicks the switch to shift us back from smooch to dance mode. Although it made No. 1 in the States it only reached 28 in the UK singles charts. Some interesting effects pedal work and a drum solo from Weston adds to the interest here.
TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia) was the signature tune of MFSB (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother in its less profane version), the Philadelphis International studio house band and theme tune for Soul Train. Great stuff, which takes me back. The arrangement here adopts a pleasant sounding cod-Japanese sound before breaking into the full Philly sound, with the string section in the background. Some songs make me move my feet or hips, this is one for the shoulders. Mary Halvorson, on second guitar, gets a solo here.
Then we are taken on The Ohio Players Love Rollercoaster. You can read about the macabre and extremely unlikely explanations of the scream which is heard on the original 1970’s recording here.
Do It Anyway You Wanna was cut by People’s Choice, sold over a million copies in the USA in its first three months following release and is quintessential funk.
The set closes with Van McCoy’s The Hustle, another memorable anthem from 1975, once again beginning with a nod to oriental music before picking up on the distinctive riff of the original. You too can do The Hustle courtesy of YouTube here:-
To play press or touch the arrow
The result is the evidence of what must have been an a very fine and downright funky performance at Tokyo’s Club Quattro in July 2014. It’s an interesting diversion down a road not dis-similar to that travelled by Grant Green on albums such as Alive, Live At Club Mozambique and Live at The Lighthouse. Sadly, I don’t know a great deal about Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time other than that I remember enjoying a CD that I had briefly in the late 80’s (I think) but I am sure there are those amongst you who can recommend what to seek out.
Marc Ribot’s website lists no less than ten discrete musical projects and five live film score sets. In addition, having read a number of interviews with him, he has on a number of occasions stated that he would not regard himself as a jazz guitarist. This makes makes efforts to pigeonhole him as futile as they are banal. He is playing a solo concert in London this May, which suggests that he will not be performing either music from this Young Philadephians set or from his Albert Ayler centred trio work. However, he will have one or more guitars with him and I hope to be there to hear what he offers up. I’m sure whatever he plays, the audience will not be be disappointed.
The band etc:- Marc Ribot (guitar); Jamaaladee Tacuma (electric bass guitar); G. Calvin Weston (drums); Mary Halvorson (guitar); Takako Siba (viola); Yoshie Kajiwara (violin); China Azuma (cello). Recorded live, 28 July 2014. Club Quattro, Tokyo, Japan. Live Engineer: Seigen Ono. Mixing Engineer: Francois Lardeau. Cover design: Gold Unlimited. Cover photos: Hiroki Nishioka. Released February 2016 as Yellowbird yeb- 7760.
Occasionally, opinionated people come out with ill-formed assertions. They say: ‘Jazz is dead’, or ‘There’s nothing new to hear’. The downwithit.info party line on this is that they are not trying hard enough. They might be too scared or blinkered but one way or another they need to do a bit of work and, at the very least test their opinion against the market. That’s what I did this year, after listening to an excellent recent set from 2012 by RipRap, and I’m delighted to present our first album of the year, from a truncated crop of eight new sets.
These are the new recordings I wrote about. Each of them was issued in 2014 for the first time and all were recorded, either this year or in 2013. You can visit my review by clicking on the red titles.
Robin McKelle- Heart Of Memphis. March 2014. The only vocal set in this list- but what a wonderful soul voice she has. She has been concentrating on the French market in 2014 and I hope we will get to see her in London again sometime soon.
Marc Ribot Trio Live At Village Vanguard. June 2014. This trio led by guitar virtuoso Ribot go intense and free on a set featuring Coltrane and Albert Ayler tunes, but with a couple of ballads as respite.
Dylan Howe- Subterranean, New Designs On Bowie’s Berlin. July 2014. A labour of love brought to us via Kickstarter crowdfunding. Bowie’s instrumentals sound wonderful in this context. An unrushed, wonderfully executed set featuring some excellent musicianship and arrangements.
Blacktop- #One. August 2014. Disappointing Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas project featuring Steve Williamson on sax. Hopefully there’s better to come from this source next year.
Pharaoh Sanders- Spiral Mercury. October 2014 (1). More of an ensemble piece than an album dominated by Pharoah but it brought a taste of a hot night in Lisbon and is worth seeking out if you like this great saxophonist.
GoGo Penguin- V2.0 October 2014 (2). A light piano led set which was also on the Mercury shortlist but was slighter and less adventurous than Polar Bear.
And the first downwithit.info Contemporary Set Of The Year 2014 is…
…Dylan Howe- Subterranean.
If I could only grab two others from a burning room they would be- Marc Ribot Trio Live At Village Vanguard
And Polar Bear- In Each And Every One
I’m delighted with this crop of releases from artists, many of whom were new to me at the start of 2014.
Before Christmas 2014, I will be looking back over the older sets that I’ve brought to you this year in an on the shoulders of giants / dead Jazzer’s shoes posting. I’ll also be reflecting on the handful of gigs that I’ve attended- not such a bad list, come to think of it! In the meantime, why not use the comments section to tell us about your new album of the year, especially if it is one of the many that I’ve overlooked.
It’s time for another contemporary album. The one that caught my eye to write about for for you this month is by Mark Ribot who is an incredibly prolific session guitarist. Released in May 2014 it is a recording of Ribot playing with Henry Grimes and Chad Taylor in 2012 at New York’s Village Vanguard, a legendary New York Jazz Club that I have yet to visit (although many years ago I saw Issac Hayes play a set at The Blue Note). First things first, we’ll get the artist’s name right, as he encourages us to do at his website. Repeat after me, REE-Bow! Good, that’s out of the way- so no excuses when you go to the shop.
Marc Ribot has played in a hugely diverse range of styles, as a sideman with Tom Waits, Wilson Pickett, Elton John, Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithfull, Madelaine Peyroux, McCoy Tyner, John Zorn and many, many others. He counts free jazz luminary, Albert Ayler as a major influence and his earlier Spiritual Unity set from 2008 is a collection of five Ayler numbers, including Truth is Marching In, which is was one of the first free jazz tracks that I got beyond the shock of and really listened to (in breaks from studying in Goldsmith’s College library in the late 1980’s). Our bass man for The Ribot set, Henry Grimes actually played bass on this when it was first recorded live by Ayler, also at The Village Vanguard, in December 1966. Two Ayler tracks feature here, along with a couple of late career John Coltrane outings and two traditional ballads which offer respite from the free jazz flamers.
Opening with a bowed bass introduction, some beautiful guitar playing and some very Elvin Jones style drumming, John Coltrane’s Dearly Beloved is initially lofty and atmospheric before giving way to some pyrotechnic style soloing from Ribot. It is a robust, yet exciting and engaging performance.
Ayler’s The Wizard is next up. It is an electric guitar workout, played at pace with lots of Elvin Jones style cymbals from Taylor. Later, Grimes takes a bass solo before Ribot returns to add a series of guitar runs as the piece ends.
Old Man River is the famous Kern/Hammerstein number from ‘Showboat’. It is a very fine version, worth the price of the CD by itself, in my opinion. I would have included it here if there was a YouTube version currently available, but there isn’t, so no such treat is presented for you.
Bells, the second Albert Ayler composition, weighs in at 19:09 and is the longest piece on the set. After a gentle first half it moves through a passage that is reminiscent of and draws from American marching band music (of course Ayler served as a military bandsman in his early years). From there on, it is free Jimi Hendrix-like acid guitar virtuosity- which I can only appreciate in small segments.
I’m Confessin’ That I’m Lovin’ You. is played straightforwardly as a melodic ballad, vaguely reminiscent of the Hot Club style, without anything to frighten even the most skittish horse.
Touch or click on the arrow to play film.
John Coltrane’s Sun Ship closes the recording, with another powerful and angry sounding piece.
It has been exciting to listen to Live at The Village Vanguard. Whilst most of this is not exactly music to accompany a dinner party, it captures the excitement of what must have been a gripping concert. If I hadn’t begun to look at recent releases it is very likely that The Marc Ribot Trio would have remained a mystery to me. As it is, I will try to see them when they next play in London or Manchester.
Marc Ribot is clearly a very skilled guitarist, although he is critical of his own technical limitations as he explained that he is a natural left hander who learned to play guitar right handedly. Henry Grimes, the trio’s bass player (and violinist) has an amazing story to tell. In the 60’s he played with many of the greats, including Albert Ayler himself (as noted above) before a trip to California to play with Al Jarreau and Jon Hendricks went badly awry, leaving him with a broken bass that he could not afford to have repaired. He spent over 30 years in LA employed as a manual labourer and renting a small room where he wrote poetry in his free-time, before being prompted to take up the bass again, rapidly recover his former prowess and take New York by storm. You can read more here.
Chad Taylor, on drums, completes the lineup. He started out in his childhood as a guitarist before switching to drums. His website is here.
The band etc: Henry Grimes (bass, violin); Marc Ribot (guitar); Chad Taylor (drums). Recorded: 30 June 2012 at The Village Vanguard, New York City. Produced by Chad Taylor. Sleeve Design: Michael Cina and Norah Stone. Photography: David O’Shaughnessy. Issued on Pi Recordings, May 2014.