The great thing about an uncategorizeable musician like Marc Ribot is that he will always feel free to make up his own categories. For instance, his side project Ceramic Dog is noisy punk-jazz with a hip-hop attitude. More recently, Ribot has endeavored to combine genuine Philly disco soul with Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic funk of his 70s and 80s Prime Time band. But he didn’t stop there: he actually brought in the Prime Time’s rhythm section of Jamaaladeen Tacuma (bass) and G. Calvin Weston (drums), and shared his front-line guitar with the guitar of Mary Halvorson. And what the heck, he tossed in a 2 viola/1 cello trio for good measure.
Ribot has taken this idea and these guys on the road the last couple of years, delighting audiences with a mash-up of styles that no one else could have possibly imagined, much less executed. Meet The Young Philadelphians, the latest brainchild from the fertile, boundless mind of Ribot. On July 29, 2016 comes forth a document from one of those shows, Live In Tokyo (Enja Yellowbird Records).
Not all the songs covered here came from Philadelphia but all have the requisite ingredients for that sound, typified “by funk influences and lush instrumental arrangements, often featuring sweeping strings and piercing horns” (Wikipedia). Most of these tunes also have very minimal, sing-along lyrics and all but two of the seven tunes offered here were first released in the Philly Sound’s peak year of 1975.
Despite their avant pedigree, The Young Philadelphians keep both the melodies and beats reasonably intact, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to be who they are. The Trammps’ paean for positivity “Love Epidemic” is given a punk makeover by Ribot & Company, the uplifting lines deliver with a deliberately flat delivery leading to the clash of two free form guitar titans that lives up to the billing. Contrast that with the shimmering melodicism that kicks off Teddy Pendergrass’ hit “Love TKO” and the pocket string section harmonizing along. But the best part of that performance is Tacuma’s sensitive and thick bass lines that alternately concocts soul expressions on the spot and provides the groove.
The 1975 #1 hit “Fly, Robin, Fly” from the Silver Convention was the prototypical Euro-disco song. Yet again, Ribot recites — not sings — the background lyrics, and as you might expect the Tacuma/Weston unit lays down a much tougher rhythm than the original. Halvorson solos about as far off course as possible and still connect to the melody. But when Weston does his own, thundering solo, you completely forget it’s a disco song. By the end, it’s turned into a funk tune.
The familiar theme to “(TSOP) The Sound of Philadelphia” is stretched out and a little deconstructed in true Ribot fashion, taking more than three minutes before the groove kicks in, along with crazy dauntless guitar. They don’t mess around with the iconic funk riff of “Love Rollercoaster,” getting down to business by getting down. It’s served pretty straight up, until we reach Tacuma’s righteous, outer-space bass solo.
“Do It Anyway You Wanna” from The People’s Choice features a blistering Halvorson solo that’s most indicative of her signature guitar language and it’s interesting in how effectively it crosses over into this most unlikely landscape for that sort of avant-garde expression. Ribot and Halvorson unify on the theme for Van McCoy’s disco chart-topper “The Hustle” before splitting away into contorted guitar runs.
Marc Ribot makes music that turns genres on its head because he can. People seeking adventurous music should seek out Ribot adventures like Live In Tokyo because he does it with such attitude, resourcefulness and a buttload of fun.
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