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Ribot, Grimes & Taylor

Ribot Grimes Taylor 1

On a small table in front of the chair on which he sat to play guitar at the Cafe Oto last night, Marc Ribot had a large egg-timer. I’ve often wonderered how musicians — improvising musicians in particular — know when they’re reached the end of their alloted time. Most of them seem to have an internal clock, its calibration refined over the years. But I’ll never forget the morning after a particularly mesmerising performance by Art Pepper at St Paul’s Church in Hammersmith at the end of the ’70s, when a photographer came into the Melody Maker‘s office with a set of pictures from the concert, including one that showed the great saxophonist taking a surreptitious look at his wristwatch.

I’d be surprised if anyone was clock-watching last night. The trio of Ribot, the bassist Henry Grimes and the drummer Chad Taylor started with a medley of Albert Ayler tunes, providing the guitarist (who is probably best known for his work with Tom Waits and Marianne Faithfull) with a canvas for the scrabbling, string-scrubbing, sound-splintering techniques that place him somewhere on the spectrum between Jimi Hendrix and Derek Bailey. As he eased away from adding country inflections to Ayler’s march-hymn structures and wound himself up into a state of near-catharsis, I was reminded of Robert Fripp’s startling solo on King Crimson’s “A Sailor’s Tale” (from the album Islands), one of my favourite guitar improvisations.

There can’t have been more than a handful among the capacity crowd who were born when Grimes disappeared off the jazz map in 1970, having spent a dozen years establishing himself — via such important recordings as Don Cherry’s Complete Communion, Cecil Taylor’s Unit Structures and Albert Ayler’s Live in Greenwich Village — as one of the foremost members of an unusually gifted generation of double bassists. The story of his rediscovery more than 30 years later, living in Los Angeles, surviving on non-musical jobs, writing poetry and unaware of any developments in the music during the intervening period, has passed into legend. Now, at 77, he overflows with energy, ideas and purpose, the strength and fluidity of his playing absolutely unscarred by that extended lay-off.

The second tune of a long set began with a less than convincing rock beat but soon doubled up into fast bebop time and felt all the better for it. The third and last item opened with a slow, abstract passage in which Grimes played the violin, reminding us of his Juilliard training in the ’50s, before the adroit use of a volume pedal enabled Ribot to produce jolting note-cluster explosions. Taylor concluded the piece with a marvellous solo reminiscent of the immortal Elvin Jones, suggesting rhythm without specific metre or pulse and building excitement without the use of licks or repetition.

If Grimes’s tale reminds us how many years have passed since this music first turned the jazz world on its ear, a gig such as last night’s demonstrates how much scope it still offers to the creative mind.

* Before the first set, the audience was asked not to use recording or photographic equipment. The picture above was taken 20 minutes earlier, while the musicians were setting up their instruments. No protocols were breached.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Steve Beresford #

    I saw the band last night and loved everything. I thought their 12/8 blues was entirely convincing and they did a nifty Ive Grown Accustomed To Her Face too. The Ayler tunes were scattered around the sets instantly noticeable because of their absolute diatonicism.

    I played Marcs solo record Saints in my office before the gig and a friend walked in and instantly said Derek! Bailey seemed to give every note he played a different timbre, attack, overtone structure, etc. I think Marc borrowed that: the music is always in a state of flux. Even if it is single-note post-be-bop.

    I missed the first night because I was over the road at the Vortex seeing Peter Evans trio. They also deserved queues around the block because they were equally wonderful. Interesting parallels with the Ribot group.

    From: “” <> Reply-To: “” <> Date: Thu, 17 Oct 2013 09:16:32 +0000 To: <> Subject: [New post] Ribot, Grimes & Taylor

    Richard Williams posted: “On a small table in front of the chair on which he sat to play guitar at the Cafe Oto last night, Marc Ribot had a large egg-timer. I’ve often wonderered how musicians — improvising musicians in particular — know when they’re reached the end of their al”

    October 17, 2013

    Thanks for the piece on the appearance of Marc Ribot’s group at the Cafe Oto during the week. I was fortunate enough to get along to both evenings of their short residency there and thought they were enthralling. I hope that the group will be recorded – I would love to hear again the material that Mr Beresford describes above. I agree with you that the group have identified ground somewhere bewtween Derek Bailey and Jim Hendrix. They also reminded me at times of a short lived group formed in the late 80s by Bill Frisell, Melvin Gibbs and Ronald Shannon Jackson, called Power Tools (they made only one album, I believe, but a very good one – ‘Strange Meeting’).

    Marc Ribot and the drummer, Chad Taylor, were superb on Tuesday and Wednesday evening but I am so glad that you chose to focus in particular on the contribution of the great bass player, Henry Grimes; his re-emergence is a truly heart warming story and I found myself constantly drawn towards his presence and playing at the Cafe Oto. As well as the recordings featuring him that you mention, I would like to draw attention to another that was re-released earlier this year and which I recommend warmly to anybody who has not heard it. It is a 1962 session led by the clarinet player Perry Robinson, featuring Henry Grimes, Kenny Barron (on what must be one of the brilliant pianist’s earliest recorded outings) and Paul Motian. I wonder if its title, ‘Funk Dumpling’, may have something to do with its modest reputation; it doesn’t have quite the same ring as ‘Unit Structures or ‘Complete Communion’ does it? But it is a very fine session, noteworthy for the fact that Henry Gimes composed 3 of its 7 tracks – the title, ‘Sprites Delight’ and ‘Farmer Alfalfa’ – suggesting a talent as writer and arranger as well as bass player. It is well worth seeking out; new listeners will not be disappointed.

    October 19, 2013

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