Monday, July 14, 2008


And so goes the refrain of the title track to Marc Ribot's new "Party Intellectuals;" imagine Fred Schneider of the B-52s fronting The Nels Cline Singers, and you begin to get it. The rest is just as out-there ("When We Were Young and We Were Freaks" is early Sonic Youth with an 80s era Bill Frisell playing shards of guitar noise; "Girlfriend" is the greatest nineties middle-eastern flavored garage-rock track ever recorded ), but while no two tracks are quite alike, there is no question that everything is being played by Marc Ribot and his cohorts in Ceramic Dog, Shahzad Ismaily (bass, electronics) and Ches Smith (drums, electronics). If Nels Cline's "Draw Breath" was a manifesto last year that free jazz should be about rocking out, Marc Ribot has given the first shot back: "Party Intellectuals" is an incredibly loud rock record by a downtown jazz musician, and one of the best albums of the year so far.

There are occasional counter-examples; "Todo El Mundo Es Kitsch" isn't loud, and "For Malena," a Spanish tinged folk rock tune about a man making money for his daughter, is more Tom Waits than it is Dinosaur Jr. That said, however, the former is a joke. "Todo El Mundo Es Kitsch-" literally, "The Whole World is Kitsch-" follows through on its title, offering up a world-funk elevator groove along with incessant throw-away lines about doing kitschy things around the world ("In Paris, we sipped a coffee in a cafe," "In Monaco, we struck it rich") and insistent "la la la"s. The track that immediately follows, the aforementioned "When We Were Young and We Were Freaks," is the opposite: an avant-garde freak-out featuring Ribot's dark, half sung, half spoken vocals and skronky guitar-work.

Even the free noise tracks are worth listening to; both "Digital Handshake" and "Midost" have grooves to them, and while eventually they fly the rails, when they do it seems like a logical extension of the improvisation that has already occurred. "Party Intellectuals" is not a jazz album by any measure, nor is it really a fusion record, nor even an avant-garde free-rock fest like "Draw Breath" or the Free Form Funky Freqs' "Urban Mythology Vol. 1," but an entirely different beast. Clearly "Party Intellectuals" is not an album for everyone (purists need not apply, nor those with sensitive ears), but for those with an inclination to explore, "Party Intellectuals" is a true one of a kind. There is nothing quite like it, and while it doesn't exactly fit Marc Ribot's recent jazz direction ("Saints," "Spiritual Unity"), it happens to be brilliant anyway. Highly Recommended.

Next time I'll have the first annual Downbeat Critics Poll: Tally and Grievances! So get excited, it promises to be a classic. I heard from a source close to me that I didn't do so well, but we will see as soon as I can get my hands on the most recent copy. Also, voting is now open for the Downbeat Readers Poll, so if you click on the link you can vote, preferably for people who aren't supplied to you by Downbeat (The Jazz Monster voted for Chris Dingman on vibes and Nels Cline on guitar, for example). Check back next time!

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