Marc Ribot Spiritual Unity: London, England October 28, 2011
October 28, 2011
Guitarist Marc Ribot's Spiritual Unity trio, featuring bassist/violinist Henry Grimes and drummer Chad Taylor, brought down the house at the Bishopsgate Institute in London on Friday, October 28, 2011. Near the beginning of a whirlwind European tour, the trio performed a joyously eclectic selection of numbers that covered a pantheistic array of musical disciplines, from the 1960s love cry of Albert Ayler to the timeless, heartfelt patterns of country music and the untrammeled immediacy of its rather distant cousin, the blues.
Whilst Ribot was nominally the leader and took the lion's share of solo space, the trio was a collective unit, not just in the sense of being released from the "rhythm section backing a soloist" conception, but in the more important sense of emotional collectiveness. Walls don't exist at this level of music making; labels and descriptions, whilst undeniably helpful in identifying and tracing the root cause of any given mode of musical expression, take a back seat to the more determined imperative of breaking the fourth wall. A term more common to the world of theater, it is applied here with the utmost sincerity: three walls that exist onstage serve the purpose of artifice, the conscious presentation of the artistic limitations of the author (or, in this case, musician).
Beyond these three walls is the real world, outside of the author/musician's imagination; inside those walls are the confines of their world, and the basic principle of art and suspension of disbelief. The fourth wall is, effectively, an invisible one that exists between audience and performer, maintaining the necessary border between them. When that fourth wall is broken, such as a heckler might do at a stand-up comedy gig, then danger happens; anything can happen, in fact, as the audience enters the unknown along with the performer. When the fourth wall is down, the dam is broken and the water can run freelyperhaps directionless or perhaps at the mercy of nature and therefore servant to the ultimate sense of logic and order.
This was the cause of the Spiritual Unity trio's emotional impact in performance. To a packed, sold out hall, resplendent in an academic way, these fine gentlemen not only blew the blues away, they blew the world's current strife and woe away and replaced them, for a stunning temporal moment, with the absolute possibility of ecstasy and joy. It was more than happiness, such as getting something you want; more than excitement, such as watching the end of a thrilling sports event; and more than merely adrenalin-induced noise. Much of this was attributable to the trio's instrumental prowess, which at this point in time surely needs no qualification; suffice to say Ribot is a powerhouse of dynamic range, demonstrating a thorough understanding and execution of the entire canon. Taylor has advanced massively in recent years, while Grimes was profound, spirited, selfless and eternally youthful, his violin extending to the upper register of the string family.
Simply (but not facilely) put, Ribot is a master, and what he achieved, with Grimes and Taylor , was magical. Not miraculous necessarily, as that would suggest the inability to comprehend in human terms the cause of a particular event. Here, the cause was resolutely human, with a touch of spiritual unity.
To quote controversial French author, poet and filmmaker Michel Houellebecq: "The simple fact of being constitutes, in itself, a permanent occasion for joy."