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Marc Ribot: Saints

David Adler By

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Perhaps the most interesting facet of Marc Ribot's solo guitar exposition is its focus on Albert Ayler. Three of the four compositions from Ayler's 1964 recording Witches and Devils appear on the disc, beginning with "Saints," on which Ribot emulates Ayler's austere saxophone cries on guitar or a guitar-like instrument (it's hard to tell). The tone is brittle, the attack aggressive, the pitches practically microtonal—a friend remarked on a certain similarity to Chinese music (echoes of Armstrong on bebop?). The sound of Ribot's instrument, however, is riveting in its clarity and textural richness. His aesthetic, too, is remarkably consistent and focused. You'd expect his signature strangeness to suit John Zorn's "Book of Heads #13," but he brings it to bear just as firmly on a rubato, acoustic version of "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," where he pays fairly close attention to the original melody and harmony but skates deliciously out of bounds. A similar ingenuity is at work on one other standard ("I'm Confessin'), rock and show tunes (The Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," Bernstein's "Somewhere"), traditional songs ("Go Down Moses," "St. James Infirmary"), and a rather melancholy piece by kindred spirit John Lurie ("It Could Have Been Very Beautiful"). Toward the end Ribot meditates twice more on Albert Ayler, scraping and scratching and even vocalizing his way through "Witches and Devils" and "Holy Holy Holy." (On the Ayler reissue, the latter is listed as "Holy, Holy." Here Ribot simulates the ghost-like voice heard throughout the original version.)

Producer JD Foster plays an important role, giving Ribot different sonic backdrops as the program proceeds—a sort of vintage-radio effect on "I'm Confessin'," a low-fi, garage-like blues twang on "St. James Infirmary," computer-generated haze on "Empty" (the only original, a collaboration with Francois Lardeau).

The prevailing solo guitar model in jazz is the chord-melody approach as enshrined in the late Joe Pass's "Virtuoso" series. Ribot, who of course has never been a mainstream jazzer, makes a bold move toward a different model entirely—one in which rigorous knowledge of harmony and melody bumps up against an Aylerian outlaw sensibility, resulting in a sonic landscape that could only have been dreamed up by Ribot himself.

Track Listing: 1. Saints 2. Book of Heads #13 3. I?m Getting Sentimental Over You 4. Empty 5. Happiness Is a Warm Gun 6. I?m Confessin? 7. Go Down Moses 8. St. James Infirmary 9. Somewhere 10. Holy Holy Holy 11. It Could Have Been Very, Very Beautiful 12. Witches and Devils

Personnel: Marc Ribot, guitars, vocal.

Title: Saints | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Atlantic Jazz


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