Monday, May 09, 2005

Marc Ribot – Spiritual Unity (Pi, 2005)

Marc Ribot may not exactly kick ass with this new record, but as Terry Pratchett would say, he certainly does “prod buttock.” This is a tribute to Albert Ayler featuring Ayler’s former bassist Henry Grimes, Roy Campbell on trumpet and Chad Taylor on drums. Ribot has played Ayler’s music before, notably on the title track to his eerie solo guitar album Spirits, so this isn’t much of a stretch for him and all of the members of the band dive into Ayler’s folkish themes.

Before they do, there is a Ribot original, “Invocation” which sets the stage for what is to follow, by using a simple melody as a springboard to more complex improvisation. “Spirits” is the first Ayler composition featured on the album and as you might imagine, it has a gospelish theme. It’s interesting how the band handles the solo duties, especially Campbell who at times is asked to be a stand in for both Albert Ayler and his trumpet playing brother Donald who performed on many of the original recordings. “The Truth is Marching In” is one of Ayler’s most memorable tunes, and while nothing can top the scalding intensity of the version recorded by his band in The Village Concerts, this group is able to approach this from a different angle, using the mournful opening and marching band type melody to explore the textures of improvisation where the original group explored volume and intensity.

Things cool off a little bit with “Saints” which is an atmospheric performance where the band meditates on one of Ayler’s gentler themes. The disc ends in an exciting fashion with a 15 minute live version of “Bells” recorded at the Tonic in New York. "Bells" was originally a 20 minute improvisation that was released as a single sided record for Ayler in the mid 60’s, and the band keeps much of that intensity with a crowd pleasing group improvisation. This was a very interesting album which deserves to be played often. Hopefully this group will be able to explore some more of the Ayler songbook and add some more originals on future releases.

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