Marc Ribot Trio

Live at the Village Vanguard
Pi Recordings 53

While there’s a bit of disengagement involved in imaging that this salute to the Albert Ayler and John Coltrane by a guitar trio was recorded at the temple of Jazz restraint – New York’s Village Vanguard – the high quality of the sounds surmounts puzzlement.

Back in the 1960s the tenor saxophone pioneers actually did gig at the Vanguard and even recorded an LP there. As a matter of fact the trio’s bassist Henry Grimes, in his first go-round in the Jazz spotlight, was featured on that Ayler disc. Authenticity aside, the focus on the set here – two Coltrane lines; two by Ayler; and two standards – is on the capabilities of the whole trio. Someone whose tasty timing and supportive percussion strategy has made him a valuable asset to bands as different as the Chicago Underground, Triptych Myth and Fred Anderson’s combos, Chad Taylor is a percussionist for every groove. Guitarist Marc Ribot is equivalently versatile, having played with leaders running the gamut from Tom Waits and John Zorn to Diana Krall and Neko Case.

Ribot’s folksy-pop bent is particularly generic to this session. That’s because the interpretations of standards are proficiently played but rather frivolously; nothing that couldn’t be done by a score of other guitar-bass-drum bands. On both tunes the guitarist’s sharpened single-string note patterns are as comfortable and conventional as if they came from Carl Kress or George Van Epps. Plus the trio’s reading of “Old Man River” lacks the burlesque theatrically of the Ayler version. Suppleness pays off nonetheless when the three finally tackle the John Coltrane and Ayler lines.

Crucially, Ribot’s ruggedly arppegiated picking is a perfect match for the Ayler compositions since the style manages to expand on the primitive folk quality of the originals. “The Wizard” for instance become a near Country (and Western) Blues as Taylor’s shuffle beat accompanies descending string slides from the guitarist. Plus the string textures often arrive so close together than they nearly blur. Even better is “Bells”. Using a volume pedal and knob twisting to outline the tremolo theme, Ribot subsequently introduces Rock-like quivers as Grimes’ broken octave bowing joins with cymbal crashes from Taylor. Reaching cruising speed, Ribot manages to not only reference the initial head, but with martial beats from Taylor and bass thumps holding the line, also spits out a speedy version of “Ghosts”, exhilaratingly combining both lines into sophisticated Blues-Rock.

He performs the same sort of slight-of-hands on “Dearly Beloved” where the climax seems to owe more to the Rolling Stones than Trane. At the same time, variations on this theme, which is introduced by a bent-note bass solo, involve crunching arpeggios and flanged stops from Ribot, but is introduced in such a way that tastefulness is paramount. The concluding “Sun Ship” also maintains its spiritual colors since Taylor’s cross-handed beats balance tension emanating from the guitarist’s underlying Blues emotionalism. Injecting “A Love Supreme” insinuations, Ribot and the other two players generate dynamic rhythmic textures while staying true to the compositions’ theme and message. If all the Rock bands which tried to co-opt Coltrane themes over the years could hear this, they may have gained an idea of what can be accomplished by adroit improvisers.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Dearly Beloved 2. The Wizard 3. Old Man River 3. Bells 5. I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You) 6. Sun Ship

Personnel: Marc Ribot (guitar); Henry Grimes (bass and violin) and Chad Taylor (drums)