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.
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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.
Marc Ribot’s website is here