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Review: Marc Ribot Trio

Henry Grimes.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved

Marc Ribot Trio
(Bishopsgate Institute, 28th October 2011, Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Marc Ribot was at his most intense and uncompromising for his trio’s sell-out concert in the pristine Great Hall at Bishopsgate Institute. His introductory remarks put down a marker for a set over which he presided seated, head down, scrunched over his Gibson, giving no quarter. “We play pieces by Albert Ayler, John Coltrane and Mingus and probably won’t announce them … sorry, but that’s the way it is.”

Marc Ribot
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. All Rights Reserved

Ribot forced through a raw, concentrated delivery of searing, metallic tones with more than a nod to Hendrix – even briefly quoting his Star Spangled Banner. His counterbalances were the quiet grace and dignity of the statuesque Henry Grimes, with an unending well of invention in supply, and Chad Taylor‘s combination of elegant restraint and effervescence. Grimes with trademark headband and Taylor, shaven headed, in a cool, white collarless shirt, would build up to a thunderous flux and flip over, in a coup d’oeil, to a low rumbling bass and the light tinkling of bells.

Grimes was the fulcrum, providing the antidote to Ribot’s scorched earth tactic. His playing gently radiated inner confidence, with bowing deep into the strings, and delicately patterned fingerwork. Grimes was one of Albert Ayler’s favourite bass players and has commented that between them they had “that kind of feeling of extrasensory perception” *. Taylor responded with the brightest of brushwork and taps to the snares and the drumkit’s metalwork, turning to a swampy gumbo backbeat to pick up on Ribot’s brief excursion to the fringes of country blues.

They modulated the sound by stealth, exemplified when Ribot turned the volume right down to an acoustic level, letting it back in for the trio to pile up the pressure, flooding the hall with a darkly defined whirlpool of cross-rhythms.

Ribot’s approach was deconstructive – he’d pull up short at any hint of playing it straight. On the heavy blues which grew out of Coltrane’s Alabama he’d play the in-between notes – he didn’t lose the blues, he just left it behind, while Grimes and Taylor put down a rock solid rhythm which gradually gave way to a dynamic, accelerating momentum. They delighted in spikey contrasts and an aggressive playfulness. There were no real borders; Grimes gently put his bass to rest and attacked his violin with frenetic resolve; the nearest Taylor got to a rolling drum solo – solos are not strictly in the trio’s vocabulary – followed a single dab of feedback and a defined silence from Ribot.

They encored first with a lightly swinging rag which gave Grimes his second skittering burst on violin, and then revisited the densely coloured powerhouse, with booming echoes of Ornette’s Prime Time and the electric James Blood Ulmer, leaving no doubts that Ribot’s early intent had come to fruition.

Marc Ribot Trio at Bishopsgate Institute
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights reserved

Margaret Davis Grimes thought that this was one of their best Trio gigs ever – and she’s seen over 80 of them, commending also the quietly attentive listening audience.

Solo pianist Matthew Bourne opened proceedings with a virtuosic solo performance. His second piece was played entirely within the piano’s body, tapping, plucking and strumming the piano wires, ending a short set by shifting from wide open spaces to rapid, cyclical cascades in the spirit of Ligeti.

Cello and vocal/laptop duo Mayming offered a range of ideas combining composition and improvisation, which in some areas seemed to be a touch naïve and lacking in resolution.

The new Bishopsgate venue is a beautiful, if formal, space and the hall’s superb acoustics, thanks to an array of white, suspended baffles, optimised every nuance from the stage. It is an exciting alternative for the Vortex’s programming team, giving them the option to occasionally attract a larger audience than the club allows.

* Quoted from an interview with Grimes in 2003, in the book ‘Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost’ (Revenant Records, 2008)

The Marc Ribot Trio was presented by Vortex City Sessions.

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