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Wednesday, May 1, 2002

HIGH NOTES

Marc Ribot


Guitarist Marc Ribot originally gained attention by playing with those iconoclastic Downtown Johns -- Zorn and Lurie -- in the early '80s. Later he cemented his reputation as a musical polymorph with session work for people like Elvis Costello and Tom Waits. However, it was mainly as the leader of Los Cubanos Postizos (The Prosthetic Cubans) that Ribot made a name for himself as a solo artist anywhere near the mainstream. The project, a personal take on the music of the blind Cuban son innovator Arsenio Rodriguez, was actually narrower in scope than any Ribot had previously attempted. However, like all the projects he's fronted -- from the avant-punk band Shrek to the deconstructed lounge music of the Restless Cosmopolitans -- the purpose seemed to be to get under the skin of late-20th-century music and infest it with new blood without destroying the surrounding tissue.

News photo

Last fall, Ribot released "Saints," his first album without a band. Half of the songs are covers of songs by people whom Ribot has either worked with or studied exhaustively: Zorn, Lurie, Bernstein, free-jazz pioneer Albert Ayler. But the other half are standards and traditional blues and gospel songs. There's even a version of John Lennon's "Happiness Is a Warm Gun." As experiments go, the album seems to be an attempt by Ribot to see if the methods that have served him well in his ensemble work will also succeed in a solo context.

Though played almost exclusively on electric guitar, "Saints" contains none of the distortion that often finds its way into Ribot's ensemble work, but the brinkmanship that he always brings to his improvisations remains intact. Like Hendrix and Wes Montgomery, Ribot's fingers seem to be plugged directly into a primordial musical database that allows him to transcend the limits of whatever "genre" he happens to be playing without losing sight of it. On an overly familiar standard like "St. James Infirmary," the melody comes through clearly even though Ribot doesn't actually play it.

Ribot's upcoming Japan tour will be a solo affair, but he has enough friends and admirers in Japan to guarantee drop-in guests at one time or another. And despite what you may hear, it won't all be avant-garde. Ribot, apparently, hasn't shaken his Latin jones.

Marc Ribot: May 20, 6 and 9 p.m., with Ego-Wrappin' at Aoyama Cay, (03) 3498-5790, 5,000 yen; May 21, 7:30 p.m., at Nagoya Tokuzo, (052) 733-3709, 5,000 yen; May 22, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., at Kanazawa Mokkiriya, (076) 231-0096, 4,000 yen; May 23, 8 p.m., at Kyoto Cafe Independent, (075) 255-4312, 4,500 yen; May 24, 10 p.m., at Osaka Club Dawn, (06) 6373-4919, 3,500 yen; May 25, 10 p.m., at Aoyama Cay, 3,500 yen; and May 26, 8 p.m., at Sapporo Nakamura Gakkiten, (011) 252-1124, 5,500 yen. Add 500 yen for tickets purchased at the door.


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