Ah, The Sound of Philadelphia
. For folks lucky enough to grow up in or around the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection in the mid-to late-1970s (I'm one), the very phrase resounds with memories, most emanating from Sigma Sound Studios on North 12th Street: Thick yet clear arrangements, pumping and thumping basslines and rhythms, masterful vocalists smooth (Billy Paul
) and rough (Teddy Pendergrass
), guided by the firm yet sensitive hands of soul entrepreneurs Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and their gemstone, Philadelphia International Records.
Led by guitarists Marc Ribot
and Mary Halvorson
, The Young Philadelphians' Live in Tokyo
presents a twin guitar avant-jazz retrospective on 1970s disco, funk, and soul. Even so, it's one of the most "rock 'n' roll" jazz sets you'll ever hear, played with punk rock abandon and supercharged by rampaging electric bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma
and drummer G.Calvin Weston
(the group's only native Philadelphian), and sweetened just enough by three string players (Takako Siba, viola; Yoshie Kajiwara, violin; and China Azuma, cello).
It's evident from their opening rave-up of "Love Epidemic" (The Trammps) with the guitarists slam-banging chords like guitar jailhouse doors, and Tacuma rocking the bass line as if holding onto it for dear life. Ribot first solos spastically but then draws thick bold bright blue lines and smears them all over the rest of the music like James Blood Ulmer
sketching the blues. They stomp out "Fly, Robin, Fly" (Silver Convention) with just as much howling energy: The rhythm section and strings play this more or less straight, while the guitarists smear electric colors all around, like a messy child's fingerpainting in sound. Ribot and Halvorson chop out the rhythm and hook to "Love Rollercoaster" (Ohio Players
) to summon the rhythm section to thoroughly thrash its underlying bass and drum parts. Tacuma's bass solo shreds to bits what remains of the original composition, driving the tune from Dayton, Ohio
(the Players' hometown) into far outer space, while the live strings maintain the melody.
Yet the ensemble also plays with subtlety and jazz style. Ribot slowly unravels the opening melody of "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia
)" (Mother, Father, Sister, BrotherMFSB) like a lone gunman emerging from the horizon of a Ennio Morricone western, lifting the band to float in space and time as the violinists resolutely saw out the melody...and then Tacuma slips into the downbeat and the band kicks into a rocking four on the floor jam. Ribot also finds smoldering hard rock in his slow-burning instrumental take on "Love TKO," one of Pendergrass' most enduring "quiet storm" ballads.
Just like The Young Philadelphians scream out to end "TSOP": Let's get it onit's time to get down!
Love Epidemic; Love TKO; Fly, Robin, Fly; TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia); Love Rollercoaster; Do It Anyway You Wanna; The Hustle.
Marc Ribot: guitar; Jamaaladeen Tacuma: bass; G. Calvin Weston: drums; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Takako Siba: viola; Yoshie Kajiwara: violin; China Azuma: cello.