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Surely a disc that lives up to its own title, ?Muy Divertido! (Very Entertaining!) is difficult to consider from a jazz perspective. So maybe it ain't jazz. Maybe it doesn't matter. But, then again, eccentric downtown guitarist Marc Ribot has made a career out of being unpredictable - and never less than totally interesting.
On this, his second hip trip to Cuban climes with his group, Los Cubanos Postizos, the landscape is engaging and strikingly pretty. But it's dirty too and just a wee bit disquieting, always suggesting danger around every corner. Imagine one of Alex Cox's south-of-the-border films and you get the idea.
Here, Ribot fronts what amounts to a cantina rock band that knows its Willie Bobo and Ry Cooder as well as the more noble natives of the music, undoubtedly unknown to most non-Cuban listeners. The string holding it all together is Ribot's genuine seriousness and love for the music - despite the deadpan recitation at one point that goes "The hills of New Jersey are beautiful?"
Ribot's guitar is something else again. Though it never seems to dominate the catchy rhythms, occasional vocals or aggressively funky beats, Ribot is clearly out front sporting some of the loveliest playing he's ever done. He's content to strum his three-chord parts during the melody. But he solos throughout around feelings and moods, rather than technique and style. As a result, Ribot concocts compact and tuneful statements centered on basic, repetitive motifs that perfectly suit the character of the music.
The rockish opener "Dame Un Cachito Pa'Huele" (one of three tunes by Arsenio Rodriguez, subject of Ribot's tribute on the first Cubanos Postizos disc) finds Ribot mixing a bit of grunge-y surf twang with an utterly creative, melodic twist. He does it again, coming full circle on the set's closer, "Carmela Dame La Llave," so you never forget it's all about having fun.
Two of his tasty originals also sport some his best playing: the moody Wes Montgomery stroll through "El Gaucho Rojo" and the Latin funk of "Baile Baile Baile" (where he perfects the appealing metallic soundscapes Bobo-guitarist Sonny Henry used to do). Other highlights include the early-Santana-like "El Divorcio" and Rodriguez's snaky, low-riding "Jaguey."
Restless Ribot varies the menu with all sorts of spicy flavors on ?Muy Divertido! (Very Entertaining!) , never settling in one place for longer than the fun will last. He crafts interesting uses of vocals and, most appealingly, organ to keep the whole party a little off kilter too. The first time it's a fiesta. But each time you come back - and this listener found it hard to resist - Ribot reveals some magical musical gifts here that go well beyond Cuban territories.
Track Listing: Dame Un Cachito Pa'Huele; Las Lomas de New Jersey; El Gaucho Rojo; Obsesi?n; El Divorcio; Se Form? el Bochinche; Baile Baile Baile; No Puedo Frenar; Jaguey; Carmela Dame La Llave.
Personnel: Marc Ribot: guitar and vocals; Anthony Coleman: keyboards; Brad Jones: bass and 12-string guitar on "Obsesi?n"), E.J. Rodriguez: conga, percussion and vocal on "Se Form? Bochine"); Roberto Rodriguez: drums, timbales, timpani and percussion; with special guests Eszter Balint: vocals; Steve Nieve: organ; Frankie Vasguez: lead vocals, percussion; Marcus Rjoa: tuba; Andy Taub: keyboard; JD Foster: bass; Riley Osborne: organ.