Renowned Downtown guitarist Marc Ribot has performed with everyone from famed roots producer T Bone Burnett
to avant-garde legend John Zorn
. Ribot's own efforts as a bandleader have been equally eclectic, ranging from the freewheeling Latin jazz excursions of Los Cubanos Postizos to the Albert Ayler
-inspired no wave assault of Shrek. In 2004 Ribot formed Spiritual Unity, a quartet dedicated to exploring Ayler's legacy, with trumpeter Roy Campbell
, drummer Chad Taylor
and most significantly, bassist Henry Grimes
, who (prior to his mysterious 35 year absence) regularly worked with Ayler and his contemporaries throughout the 1960s.Live at the Village Vanguard
is the group's debut recording as a three piecea change in lineup due to Campbell's passing earlier this year. The date is notable on at least two accounts: it marks Ribot's first time leading an ensemble at the venerated jazz club and simultaneously documents Grimes return to the stage where he last performed with Ayler in 1966, for a concert that was taped and released as Albert Ayler in Greenwich Village
(Impulse!, 1967). Invoking spirits of the past, Ribot's trio offers rhapsodic interpretations of Ayler and John Coltrane
tunes, as well as a surprisingly understated pair of standards, conveying "Old Man River" and "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)" with lyrical sensitivity and restraint.
The majority of the set entails a much broader range of dynamics than the aforementioned ballads however. Opening with a majestic version of Coltrane's "Dearly Beloved," the threesome gracefully ascend to a rapturous modal climax before a rowdy rendition of "The Wizard" reveals connections to rural folk music traditions. The epic centerpiece "Bells" is given a suitably expansive work-out that veers from pensive pointillism to ecstatic expressionism, while a fervent take on "Sun Ship" ends the session on a high note.
Encouraged by an audibly appreciative audience, Ribot transforms blistering cadences into hypnotic, mantra-like refrains, evoking Ayler's transcendent Old World spirituality. Grimes' contributions provide harmonic ballast and textural detail, perfectly underscoring Taylor's adroit, animated accompaniment. Emboldened by the trio's impassioned rapport, Live at the Village Vanguard
draws pertinent parallels to Ayler's 1966 recording, providing salient historical context for Ribot and company's protean effort.
Dearly Beloved; The Wizard; Old Man River; Bells; I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You); Sun Ship.
Henry Grimes: bass, violin; Marc Ribot: guitar; Chad Taylor: drums.