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Live From New York

Dr. Lonnie Smith, Marva Whitney, Billy Prince, Marc Ribot & Steven Bernstein

By Published: January 27, 2011
Dig Deeper is fronted by Mr. Robinson and DJ Honky, usually accustomed to hosting their monthly gig at Southpaw, another Brooklyn club, just across the Gowanus border in Park Slope. Acting as the house band for this Bell House foray were The Sweet Divines, an enlarged group of local NYC singers who specialize in backing up visiting soul luminaries from the 1960s and upwards. During the opening set Eli "Paperboy" Reed, amongst their younger collaborators, made an early singing appearance, even though the band's guest vocalists usually boast several decades more experience.

A few years ago, The Divines might not have seemed so remarkable amongst soul covers specialists, but they've now evolved into a much more confident team, getting into the grit and the flash in equal measure. Particularly developed is the manner in which the four out-front girl vocalists (essentially, the Sweet Divines themselves) swap their lines, and holler out with an equal footing, much brasher and more relaxed than previously. It's also amusing to note the presence of trombonist Sam Kulik in the horn section, witnessed only a few days earlier at one of the most avant-Yule gigs humanly possible in a band led by the terminally manic Kevin Shea at The University Of The Streets.

Detroit singer Billy Prince is best known for his time with The Precisions, and this appearance was apparently his first in NYC for nigh on four decades. He was emanating sheer ecstasy at being held in the spotlight in the midst of an electric welcome from the crowd. As if possessing a voice full of nuance, poise and agility wasn't sufficient, the years became immaterial as Prince recreated the vibrations of his heyday, as physically communicative with his followers as he was on the sonic level. He was a complete performer, working the throng with ease, and sensing the energy in the room, drew it inwards to use for his own spectacular purposes.

Marva Whitney was born in Kansas City, and rose to fame as a singer with James Brown
James Brown
James Brown
1933 - 2006
. In a weakened physical state from a stroke in 2009, she performed in a seated position. This gave Whitney a disadvantage compared to the theatrical flash of Prince, but her vocals remained tough and extroverted with a was a harder, funkier edge, perfectly suited to the opening of a set at the chiming of midnight.

Marc Ribot
(le) Poisson Rouge
January 5, 2011

The snowy wasteland of January appears to be the nominated month of the weekly residency, and who is ultra-versatile guitarist Marc Ribot
Marc Ribot
Marc Ribot
to shy away from such an opportunity? This is the NYC denizen who collects a number of bands, creating copious outlets for his many talents. Whether it's his sensitive underbelly of acoustic picking, or his mangling distortion-wreckage carapace, Ribot has a compatible concept and doubtless a resultant combo. All of his bands are exceptional specialists in their given fields of operation, and sometimes Ribot even finds the time to gather up other bands, acting as an ornery guest.

The first of his four Wednesday nights at this all-musics-welcome Bleecker Street haunt began with a solo set, reflecting the contents of Ribot's most recent album, Silent Movies (Pi Recordings, 2010). He was improvising with the widest range possible: from skeletal scratches and moist body-rubs, to trotting gypsy fluidity. Ribot is sensitized to the most gossamer classicism, as well as a completely fractured abstraction where he probes the inner nature of his guitar, treating it like a pure wood and metal object, made for tapping, rapping and scraping. He's able to shock and soothe with an alarmingly sudden transition between natures.

Theoretically, within the next two settings Ribot was acting as a guest with two of his favorite Latin outfits on the NYC scene. In truth, his presence tends to subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) subvert the folkloric core of the music in question, adding elements that nudge each act towards a slightly different outcome. Ribot met the Peruvian cajón player (Juan Medrano) Cotito while touring with singer Susana Baca, and their rapport was soon established to the point where collaborations are now frequent. Even though Cotito's light-palmed box-slapping is central to the material, it should be mentioned that it's his richly reverberant voice that often transports the songs into a higher place. Ribot was exchanging the soloing duties with Cotito's own guitarist, each complementing rather than combating. The concept of the evening was carefully worked out to provide a steadily building intensity, from solo guitar, through this gently propulsive set, and ending up with the celebratory ecstasy of Ribot's work with his young Colombian crew.

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