Friday, May 2, 2008

Marc Ribot's "Mean-Tempered Guitar"

For those of you who are not familiar with Ribot's work, he is a classically trained guitar player who has played with everyone from Elvis Costello to The Lounge Lizards, and was one of the four major downtown guitar players featured on John Zorn's "The Big Gundown" (along with Bill Frisell, Arto Lindsay and Vernon Reid). His most recent project was an album ("Spiritual Unity") comprised of music written or inspired by the great free-jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler.

Marc Ribot's new album, "Exercises in Futility," is not a jazz record by any particular stretch; as far as I can tell very few notes on the album are improvised, and the vibe is much more in tune with contemporary classical music. However, in spite of the fact that it is not very "jazz," it is very "Marc Ribot," and so a review of it should fit here along with anything else. "Exercises in Futility" is, instead, a series of impossibly hard etudes (the "Exercises in Futility" of the title; Ribot described it as a sort of "Mean-Tempered Guitar" in an interview with on extended guitar technique and a final 9 minute improvisation ("The Joy of Repetition") built on some of the ideas from the etudes.

Ribot is such a great musician and guitar player that even hearing him play these technical etudes is a joy; he manages to imbue feeling into even the most clinical tracks ("#11 Ascending") and each etude has its own clear identity. That said, however, obviously this is not an album for anyone who has any kind of dislike of atonal music (Ribot has never gone out of his way to make his music easily accessible). Once one can get past that, though, there is a lot to get out of this album and I think that it could be a real eye-opener for guitar players (jazz, rock, classical or otherwise); the technique used by Ribot on "#8 Groove?" in particular sounds like it could be useful. I'd give this one a tempered recommendation; if you know and like Ribot, you very well may like this album (I did), but if you aren't into New York's Stone scene or aren't interested in hearing someone play guitar etudes for an hour, this one probably isn't for you.

Next time I'll hopefully have reviews of the new albums from Gregg August and from Farmer's Market, two good albums I feel are probably going to be overshadowed by all of the high profile albums of the recent (and coming; James Carter, Taylor Eigsti, and Bill Frisell all have albums out in the coming weeks) months.

No comments: