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.
If you like the image it is screenprinted on thick, quality paper by Tartaruga. Design by Oliver Barrett from photos by Dawid Laskowski. It is available from Cafe Oto here while stocks last.