Marc Ribot's appearance at OFAM's Now Hear This series at The Shedd on November 11 will be a solo concert. Following is a review of his current solo release, Saints.
At first, Saints, the latest Atlantic Records offering from guitarist Marc Ribot, might seem a bit of a departure after his two recent musical excursions with the acclaimed ensemble Cubanos Postizos - 1998's Marc Ribot y Los Cubanos Postizos and its follow-up, Muy Divertido! (Very Entertaining). But in reality, this new solo set actually marks a return to the practices of Ribot's 1996 Don't Blame Me, which Village Voice critic Gary Giddins hailed as "a record filled with savory and unlikely amusements" for its inventive take on a set of similar American classics.
"For this record, I wanted to go back to where I had left off before those Cubanos Postizos records," Ribot explains. Don't Blame Me was basically jazz standards played on a sort of toy guitar. And I'd done another record [1995's The Book of Heads] which was a series of compositions by John Zorn, using a lot of noise elements and extended technique. I'd done concerts in which I combined and juxtaposed elements of both these records, and I wanted to make a new record based on this idea."
Which isn't to say that Saints boils down easily to those two components. "My concept changed in production," says Ribot of making the album, which was recorded with producer J.D. Foster between February and April, 2001. "The core of the record wound up being three Albert Ayler pieces I hadn't originally planned to record."
The breadth of material on Saints is deceptively far-reaching. The twelve pieces include jazz standards ("I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," "I'm Confessin"'), traditional songs ("Go Down Moses," "St. James Infirmary"), contemporary works by John Zorn and John Lurie, and pop classics by Lennon & McCartney ("Happiness Is a Warm Gun"), and Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim ("Somewhere," from West Side Story). In addition, Saints is book-ended by "Witches and Devils" and the title track, both by free jazz pioneer Albert Ayler.
There are moments of Saints in which the original composition serves as a jumping off point. "I work by taking an existing piece and playing it until it turns into something else," Ribot explains.
Whether the pieces were familiar or not so, Ribot set up challenges to keep his approach to the material fresh. Some of the numbers on Saints were played on a twenty-dollar guitar on permanent loan from Marc Anthony Thompson (Chocolate Genius), which presented its own set of obstacles. "This guitar functions as a sort of technical/aesthetic bondage device," he says, adding, "but it makes me happy." Ribot also used some extended techniques, such as placing objects on the fingerboard, tying pieces of junk onto his instrument, "singing," etc.
"When you do something different, you imagine a new history," Ribot concludes. "The history I imagine for this record includes Derek Bailey, Thelonious Monk, Albert Ayler, John Lee Hooker, and Daniel Johnston. I don't know what this kind of music is called, but it allows me to feel as if something is possible."