Review: Marc Ribot at Café Oto

Marc Ribot at Café Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved

Marc Ribot at Café Oto
(15 March 2013; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Guitarist Marc Ribot fits in alongside Bill Frisell and Ry Cooder in sharing a fascination with American rural and urban blues and country music, and with musics from way further afield. His exploratory projects include a voyage of discovery around Django Reinhardt, and the ‘archaeology’ of the music that moves him, whether Mexican, Haitian or Cuban, via his early exposure to the Latin sounds in New York, ‘to find out exactly who played those licks’, and a tough, improvising guitar duo with Mary Halvorson in his Sun Ship quartet. He had the imagination to enlist a resurgent Henry Grimes to help re-imagine Albert Ayler’s music, and has been a lynchpin in the bands of Tom Waits.

Ribot’s ever-curious, driven sensibility is more at home with the musically rough than the smooth, so to find him in the London equivalent of New York’s downtown, in the unassuming surroundings of Dalston’s Café Oto, was a rare treat.

A magical tension pervaded Ribot’s glowing, improvised acoustic set. Hunched intently over a well-worn, well-loved six-string guitar, he threw hardly a glance at the fretboard – rather he was feeling his way over it, as though it was encrypted in Braille, very much at one with the instrument. And the magic just flowed.

His captivating performance drew in perfectly imperfect ragtimes, visits to Ayler’s canon, including the plaintive, impassioned ‘Love Cry’, and a complete blowing apart of the standard, ‘All The Things You Are’. He scraped, skittered, scrabbled and picked, set up bass beats with his thumb, licked and spit on his fingers to squeak the strings, and built up and dismantled rich chord sequences with a fiendishly busy left hand.

The audience maintained a reverential silence, following Ribot as he bared his musical mind to replenish the landscape with changes of pace and dexterous fingerwork. Spikey, jumpy gritches gave way to loosely loping, soft-edged cowboy rhythms. Folk, blues, jazzy ragtime, bass register flamenco morphed back and forth under the peerless control of a master.

After declaring that Café Oto ‘feels like home, nice messy dressing room, cool people, good acoustics, good beer … you can’t ask for more’ he obliterated another standard, ‘There Will Never Be Another You’, in encore, with fittingly flighty panache.

Undoubtedly one of the best sets witnessed at Café Oto.

As an apt prequel, sweat and blood were the order of the day in Guillaume Viltard’s physical dialogue with his double bass that saw him apply two bows simultaneously, paralleling Roland Kirk’s multi-instrumental digressions, clawing strings and tapping its body in a tense, acoustic interrogation.

Categories: miscellaneous

1 reply »

  1. Spot on review…I first became aware of Ribot when he played alongside Arto Lindsay in the disjointed, latin infused Ambitious Lovers. By way of a contrast to both the Oto gig and the sambas of Lindsay's group I recommend this full throttle homage to T Rex:
    taken form the Tzadik album, 'Great Jewish Music; Marc Bolan'

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