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Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog Use Lockdown Time to Make One of the Year’s Best Albums

Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog’s new album What I Did on My Long Vacation – streaming at Bandcamp – is the rare album recorded in isolation during the lockdown that actually sounds like the band are all playing together. But that wasn’t how it was made. Guitarist Ribot, bassist Shahzad Ismaily and drummer Ches Smith each took turns laying down their tracks in Ismaily’s studio since for one reason or another they couldn’t pull the trio together at the same time. Testament to their long camaraderie, they got not only this funny, cynical, deliciously textured album out of it; they’ll be releasing a full vinyl record (yessssssss!) with material from these sessions in 2021. They’re playing the album release show at 8 PM on Oct 23 on the roof of St. Ann’s Warehouse, Beatles style, the band playing down to the crowd on the street below.

The first track is We Crashed In Norway, a sketchy, vamping, sardonic quasi-disco theme that harks back to Ribot’s similarly wry Young Philadelphians cover band project. Beer is just plain awesome – the suspiciously snide skronk/punk/funk second number, that is, forget about the (presumably) fizzy stuff that too many of us have been abusing since March 16.

With Ismaily’s loopy bassline and Ribot’s jaggedly spare multitracks, Who Was That Masked Man reminds of  classic Metal Box-era Public Image Ltd. Dog Death Opus 27 is a lot shorter and just as loopy, with a sarcastic turnaround.

The most sarcastically savage track here is Hippies Are Not Nice Anymore, a pretty straight-up punk rock tune tracing the sordid trail of the boomers to the point where “corporate was the theme of the week” – imagine the Dead Kennedys with a careening Velvets jam at the end. To close the album, the trio channel the Dream Syndicate – Ribot playing both the Steve Wynn and Jason Victor roles – in the buzzy, psychedelic, atmospherically careening The Dead Have Come to Stay with Me.

Considering the horrific toll the lockdown has taken on bands all around the world, it’s heartwarming to these these downtown punk-jazz legends still at the top of their game, undeterred.

Multistylistic Defiance, Protest Songs and a Populist Film Score by Polymath Guitarist Marc Ribot

Once or twice a year, there always seems to be a brief series of shows aired by John Schaefer’s New Sounds on WNYC from the World Financial Center atrium where the Bang on a Can marathon took place for so many years. This year’s inaugural New Sounds theme is live film scores. The movies and music are free; showtime is 7:30 PM, but get there early if you want a seat. The first one is Jan 30 with Marc Ribot playing a live score to Charlie Chaplin’s silent film The Kid.

Ribot has toured this score before. What’s most unusual about it is that it’s solo acoustic. Then again, Ribot hardly needs amplification to validate his status as one of the world’s two greatest jazz guitarists (Bill Frisell is the other: that both are individualists who have never embraced straight-ahead postbop speaks for itself). Reviewing the score in the spring of 2015, this blog reported that “The opening theme here was a characteristic mix of jarring close harmonies and a little Americana. As the characters were introduced, Ribot hinted at flamenco and then ran the gamut of many idioms: enigmatic downtown jazz, oldtime C&W, plaintive early 20th century klezmer pop and eerie neoromanticism, to name a few. Familiar folk and pop themes peeked their heads in and quickly retreated.”

Needless to say, Chaplin’s populism dovetails with Ribot’s role as one of the most active musicians in the current wave of protest jazz. One recent album that personifies that description is his latest release YRU Still Here with his punkish project Ceramic Dog. Streaming at Bandcamp, it’s completely different from the Chaplin film score – or is it?

The album’s opening track, Personal Nancy is a mostly one-chord no wave stomp, a catalog of ways of having “the right to say fuck you.” Pennsylvania 6 6666, a vemomously cynical latin soul groove, speaks grim truth to white Christian power in the ostensibly idyllic town of Danville. And that’s Ribot on the horn solo too!

Agnes is a mashup of no wave and 13th Floor Elevators psychedelia, with a wry wah-wah interlude. Oral Sydney with a U is a wryly skronky funk instrumental with snappy bass, echoey organ and ridiculous over-the-top faux Hendrix riffage. The cynicism simmers just beneath the surface in the album’s title cut, rising to a deliciously noisy cauldron of guitar multitracks as the bluesy shuffle beat goes doublespeed.

Fueled by Ches Smith’s pummeling drums, Muslim Jewish Resistance is a broodingly anthemic, seethingly atmospheric shout-along in solidarity with both populations, equally divided and conquered by fascists over the years: it’s the album’s first moment where Donald Trump gets namechecked. Shut That Kid Up is the almost nine-minute Sonic Youth collaboration Neil Young could only dream of, while Fuck La Migra is a punk rap that needed to be written…and it’s a good thing that this guy did it, with a little Texas blues thrown in for maximum context.

Orthodoxy, featuring sitar from bassist Shahzad Ismaily (or is that Ribot playing through a sitar patch?), is the missing link between Kraftwerk, Ravi Shankar and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Freak Freak Freak on the Peripherique – a snarky over-the-shoulder look at Ribot’s Live in Japan disco album with Mary Halvorson – might be a shout-out to the Gilets Jaunes and their struggle to depose their own Trumpie president. The album’s closing cut is a ridiculous, barely recognizable psychedelic remake of Rawhide, complete with vocoder, keening funeral organ and a 80s guitar interlude nicked from Public Image Ltd. Say it one more time: this guy can literally play anything and make it interesting.

An Intuitive, Eclectic, Spot-On Live Charlie Chaplin Score by Marc Ribot

Earlier this evening Marc Ribot played a live score to the Charlie Chaplin film The Kid at Symphony Space. What was most remarkable was not how perfectly synced Ribot’s aptly acoustic solo score was to the action, or how attuned it was to the filmmaker’s many levels of meaning, or how artful the variations on several themes were constructed. Believe it or not, the show wasn’t completely sold out: there might have been a dozen empty seats, which is awfully unlikely when Ribot plays the Vanguard or the Poisson Rouge. The good news is that this performance isn’t just a one-off thing: the edgy-guitar icon is taking the score on the road with him this year, so it’s a safe bet that if you missed this concert, you’ll get other chances to see him play it here on his home turf.

In case you haven’t seen the film, the 1921 silent flick is very sweet, with plenty of slapstick, irresistible sight gags, Chaplin’s signature populism…and an ending that’s awfully pat. But Ribot didn’t go there: he left off on an enigmatic, unresolved note. To his further credit, he was most present during the film’s most lingering, pensive moments: when there was a brawl, or what passed for special effects sizzle in the early 20s, Ribot backed off and didn’t compete with the vaudevillian antics. His 2010 album Silent Movies (which includes the main theme from this score) is considered a classic of noir composition and rightfully so: Ribot can build toward symphonic levels of menace out of the simplest two-note phrase. Maybe because he was playing completely clean, without any effects, he used more notes than he usually does when playing film music. And the moods were considerably more varied than the rain-drenched, reverbtoned, shadowy ambience Ribot’s cinematic work is known for.

The opening theme here was a characteristic mix of jarring close harmonies and a little Americana; as the characters were introduced, Ribot hinted at flamenco and then ran the gamut of many idioms: enigmatic downtown jazz, oldtime C&W, plaintive early 20th century klezmer pop and eerie neoromanticism, to name a few. Familiar folk and pop themes peeked their heads in and quickly retreated, but in this case the crowd – a multi-generational Upper West mix of diehard jazz people and families out for an especially cool movie night – found the action onscreen more amusing.

A bucolic waltz, a brooding hint of an insistent, repetitive horror melody, allusions to Irving Berlin and of course the noir that’s part and parcel of so much of Ribot’s music shifted shape and repeated when one of Chaplin’s various nemeses – especially Walter Lynch’s no-nonsense beat cop or Edna Purviance’s angst-driven mother to the foundling Chaplin adopts – would make a re-entry. And much as some of these themes would begin very straightforwardly, Ribot didn’t waste any time twisting all of them out of shape. Chaplin’s smalltime scam artist and his ward never have it easy in this timeless tale, and Ribot kept that front and center all the way through. Ribot heads off on yet another European tour soon; watch this space for future hometown dates.

Marc Ribot’s Live Vanguard Album: Wild, Surreal Downtown Guitar Fun

Guitarist Marc Ribot‘s intense, brilliant new Live at the Village Vanguard album (due out May 13 from Pi Recordings) is all about tension and suspense, fueled by his fondness for noise and assault on one hand, and his laserlike sense of melody on the other. To say that Ribot is at the peak of his powers right now is pretty amazing, considering that about 25 years ago he was hyped as being something that no living, breathing musician could possibly live up to. In the years since, he’s come to integrate his squalling, shredding centerstage persona with a stunning command of idioms from across the musical spectrum. Who knew that Ribot was a genius country player? Tift Merritt did, and that’s why she hired him. Even by Ribot’s standards, he’s got a hectic series of shows coming up starting on May 11 at 8 PM with his Ceramic Dog trio (with bassist Shahzad Ismaily and drummer Ches Smith) at Rough Trade on an edgy twinbill with Chris Cochrane’s Collapsible Shoulder with Brian Chase, Mike Duclos and Kevin Bud Jones. The next day Ribot is at le Poisson Rouge with this album’s brilliant, cross-generational rhythm section, Henry Grimes on bass and Chad Taylor on drums. Then on May 13 at 8 Ribot plays a live score to Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Kid’ at Anthology Film Archives, 32 2nd Ave. And on May 16 his group Los Cubanos Postizos is back at the Poisson Rouge at 7:30ish.

This is a characteristically ambitious effort, recorded during Ribot’s first stand as a bandleader at the Vanguard. It starts with a fifteen-minute one-chord jam and ends with a surprisingly straight-ahead, bluesmetal-tinged romp with a long, suspensefully shuffling drum solo. A lot of it is twisted, evil black magic. But there’s also a gentle, sincere, straight-up trad version of I’m Confessin worthy of Jim Hall. While that testifies to Ribot’s legendary mutability, it’s his signature stuff here that stuns a noisy crowd, beginning with the night’s first number, Coltrane’s Dearly Beloved, Grimes opening it with a neatly shifting, bowed introduction that takes them by surprise. From there, Ribot pulls purposefully and then frenetically against the center, through rises and dips, a brief, haunting, nebulously Middle Eastern interlude, skronk-funk, unimpeded squall and a grimly lowlit drum solo to which Ribot adds eerie blue-light flickers. It’s as much psychedelic art-rock as it is jazz, and it’s riveting.

They segue into Albert Ayler’s The Wizard, done essentially as a boogie with similar dynamic shifts, Ribot holding the center throughout Grimes’ utterly unexpected, marvelously spacious solo before wailing back into goodnatured bluesmetal tempered with downtown grit. By contrast, Old Man River is a clinic in restraint: you can tell that everybody, especially Taylor – who, with his restless rolls and jabs, absolutely owns this number – wants to cut loose but knows they have to chill. Again, Grimes chooses his spots with a spare majesty: it’s a treat to hear somebody as out-there as he can be playing with such a dark, austere intensity. They start Coltrane’s Sun Ship pretty straight-up – if you can call Ribot’s sunbaked, distorted tone straight-up – before taking it into jagged, sidestepping ferocity and then some boisterous leapfrogging from Taylor.  The album’s longest track is Bells, skirting a low-key ballad theme, like Bill Frisell feeling around for some steady footing, negotiating circular, hypnotic spirals, Grimes’ focus anchoring Ribot’s jagged let’s-peel-the-walls shards, droll Stephen Foster quotes and a second-line tinged solo from Taylor. The subtext here is Albert Ayler, with whom Grimes played at the Vanguard the last time he was onstage there prior to his show – almost half a century ago.  You can expect all this and much more at any of Ribot’s upcoming shows, especially at the Poisson Rouge gig on the 12th.