Back in November, during the dates that Live at the Village Vanguard was recorded, we were packed in tight in the legendary jazz club's small triangular subterranean space. Much to our chagrin, the people sitting mere inches to our left were whistling and hooting at every loud sound that emanated from the stage. We agitated, tried shushing, and ultimately, we were fortunate that the music far overshadowed our neighbor's crude approach to appreciation.
The truth is, the Marc Ribot Trio is well worth hoots and whistles when applied appropriately. Veteran bassist and living connection to saxophonist Albert Ayler (whose spirit reins over this group), Henry Grimes, and superb drummer Chad Taylor, give guitarist Ribot the nimble and precise support to paint his abstract takes on both free-jazz and jazz standards.
Ribot has deconstructed standards before, like on the 2000 solo effort Saints and 1995's Don't Blame Me. He has also dove deeply into Ayler's spiritual and emotional territory with the group Spiritual Unity, which was comprised of this trio plus the trumpet work of the late Roy Campbell. It seems that 'Live at the Vanguard' offers a true synthesis of at least these two aspects of Ribot's playing.
You get a sense right away that this is special record from the early moments of the opening track, an interpretation of John Coltrane's 'Dearly Beloved' as Grimes delicately wanders with his bass into a melody sparingly outlined by Ribot. The tune builds in intensity and ferocity as Ribot lets the snarl of his guitar, delivering choice chordal fragments and melodic snippets.
Ayler's 'The Wizard' begins as a slightly demolished hoe-down, letting Ribot show another side of his musical interests. After the head, the group falls into an instrumental rock groove, with Taylor and Grimes keeping a strong pulse alive. The playing is raw, emotive, almost primitive, but at the same time, I sophisticated in its use of dynamics and textures. In a quiet moment, Grimes plays a very nice solo over Taylor's light stick work, before the group ramps up the intensity again.
This is an album full of highlights, for example, the intro to the standard 'Old Man River' is a solo guitar delight. Delicate and balanced, it serves as a nice foil to the 'The Wizard.' The guitar tone that Ribot uses on tunes like 'I'm Confessing' is a perfect blend of a dry, warm, electric hollow body coupled with a slightly menacing delivery - the perfect taste of sweet and sour.
So, maybe in retrospect we were a bit harsh in judging our fellow patrons. Maybe the folks next to us just couldn't contain themselves after yet another unbelievable turn around or that completely eviscerating version of 'Sun Ship'. We just need to relax and be happy that Live at the Village Vanguard is a great recording that captures a trio creating exciting and original interpretations of standards and classic free jazz tunes.
Followers of Ribot know of his early studies with Hatian guitarist Frantz Casséus. There is a hard to find recording that features his teacher's work. Recently, Ribot has been involved with the creation of a book of charts for solo guitar of Casséus. More info.
Interestingly, the book's release coincides with a June 16th benefit concert at the Issue Project Room in Brooklyn, NY for the Frantz Casséus Young Guitarists Program in Port-Au-Prince, a project that Ribot set up after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti.