Marc Ribot The Young Philadelphians: Live in Tokyo (Yellowbird, just released)
It’s hard to imagine something musical that guitarist Marc Ribot couldn’t do—or wouldn’t wish to.
That’s not to say that Ribot is eclectic, or that he lacks discernment. Far from it; he doesn’t dabble. He just likes many different styles of music for many different reasons. His technique is so sharp and profound, his sonic identity so strong, that all of his music, whatever it taps into, seems grounded in a single expansive concept reflective of these qualities: an improvisational credo drawn from jazz; a toughness and urgency that owes to punk and early rock; and a devotion to detail that can found wherever serious musicians gather.
Ribot describes his Young Philadelphians band in his liner notes as “where deco meets disco meets decon,” in tribute to twin legacies: “The mind-blowing harmolodic punk-funk of Ornette Coleman’s first Prime Time band and the sweet, optimistic pulse of 1970s Philly soul.”
He’s got bassist Jamaladeen Tacuma and drummer G. Calvin Weston, both Prime Time alumni, in tow here, along with fellow guitarist Mary Halvorson and a 3-piece string section. Ribot is celebrating a moment, now some 40 years old, “before dance went digital,” reinventing hits like Silver Convention’s “Fly, Robin, Fly,” Teddy Pendergrass’s “Love TKO,” and, yes, Van McCoy’s “The Hustle.” Did you have to ask? Of course, they play “TSOP (The Sounds of Philadelphia)” by MFSB (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother—if that’s really what it meant…)
I grew up on and danced to this soundtrack in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. This stuff was a guilty pleasure for me, long suppressed, now released from its dated trappings and its too-rigid disco beat by Ribot and company. They isolate both the inner grit and the pleasing naivete these songs managed to balance. And they invest these worthy pop confections (I’d forgotten how lovely some of these string lines are) with fresh fissures of noise and threads of wild invention.
This is no retro shtick. There’s nothing ironic about it. And why not honor both Ornette Coleman and Van McCoy at once (if you’ve got the chops and the love to do it).
What else am I listening to now?
Steve Lehman Sélébéyone (Pi, due Aug. 19): Saxophonist and composer Lehman is perfectly at home on the wonderful Pi label, in the company of conceptualists such as Henry Threadgill, Steve Coleman and Tyshawn Sorey. Here, he’s got a quintet, along with two rappers: Hprizm, well-known in New Yorks’ underground hiphop scene, and Gaston Bandimic, who is Senegalese. Lehman’s previous music was ambitious enough; this seems to up the ante.
The Fred Hersch Trio Sunday Night at the Vanguard (Palmetto, Aug. 12): At 60, Hersch stands as one of jazz’s defining and most distinctive pianists, and among the musicians who have made Manhattan’s Village Vanguard a special home. I love his solo work, but this trio—with bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson—has developed into something wondrous, too.
Harold López-Nussa El Viaje (Mack Avenue, Sept. 9): Lopez-Nussa, at 33, is among a generation of Cuban pianists who seem fluent and comfortable enough with idioms from both Cuba and the U.S. to freely find their own way. I’ve heard him live a couple of times, and have heard musicians in both countries sing his praises.