Although his roots are firmly entrenched in adventurous jazz, guitarist Marc Ribot covers an expansive stylistic territory; he feels just as comfortable recording and barhopping with futurist bluesman Tom Waits as he does exploring the possibilities of jazz with radical improviser John Zorn and other notables of the New York loft community. Ribot first stamped his signature guitar sound on the world of music in the mid-1980s as a member of John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards, and has since established himself as one of the industry’s most sought-after sideman with his versatility, inventiveness, and ability to push his collaborators to their maximum potential. As an avant-garde player for hire, Ribot has contributed his distinctive talent to records by a diverse range of artists including Madeleine Peyroux, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Ellery Eskelin, the Klezmatics, David Sanborn, Caetano Veloso, Marisa Monte, Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithful, Allen Ginsberg, T-Bone Burnett, David Sylvian, Tricky, Cibo Matto, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, and many more.
With a guitar style defined by its edgy, electric tones and a loose, punk-derived attitude, Ribot also incorporates elements from various genres on his own recordings and projects as a bandleader. Along with fellow guitarist Bill Frisell, Ribot is representative of a younger generation of avant-garde players who refuse to exclude pop and rock material from their repertoire. Such diversions—combined with his penetrating technique—make Ribot one of the most important figures of the “new music” movement, a community of artists that fuse jazz with classical, rock, R&B, folk, and pop styles in the same way that early jazz musicians mixed ragtime, marches, and polkas with African American elements. In addition to his work in experimental jazz and rock, Ribot also explored the Afro-Cuban sound with his Los Cubanos Postizos, an ensemble formed in 1997 that built their repertoire around the style of legendary Cuban composer and bandleader Arsenio Rodriguez.
Born on May 21, 1954, in Newark, New Jersey, Marc Ribot (pronounced REE-bow) drew inspiration from and trained in a variety of different styles during his formative years. His first mentor was classical guitarist/composer Frantz Casseus, a Haitian musician who left his native country in the 1940s to come to the United States. Teaching Ribot, Casseus became a sort of honorary member of his student’s Space Missing family. “He’d be there at all the family dinners, and he would do little recitals,” recalled Ribot in an interview for the Wire with Julian Cowley. “It made a fairly big dent on me when I was seven to hear somebody playing an instrument live. Frantz had a very clear sense of mission in his work. He wanted to create a sort of national music on classical guitar for Haiti, in the same way that Vill-Lobos had for Brazil. He was the first, I believe, out of the Haitian composers to stop imitating what was happening in France and start using Haitian folk melodies as a source.”
Born on May 21, 1954, in Newark, NJ. Education: Studied with Haitian classical guitarist and composer Frantz Casseus.
Moved to New York City and joined the R&B group the Realtones, 1979; member of John Lurie’s the Lounge Lizards, 1984–89; led the groups the Rootless Cosmopolitans and Shrek, early and mid-1990s; released unaccompanied solo album Don’t Blame Me, 1996; formed Los Cubanos Postizos, February of 1997; released Marc Ribot Y Los Cubanos Postizos, 1998; released Muy Divertido !, 2000. Also contributed his distinctive talent to records by a diverse range of artists including Tom Waits, John Zorn, Madeleine Peyroux, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Ellery Eskelin, the Klezmatics, David Sanborn, Caetano Veloso, Marisa Monte, Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithful, Allen Ginsberg, T-Bone Burnett, David Sylvian, Tricky, Cibo Matto, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, and many more.
Addresses: Record company —Atlantic Records, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, NY 10104, (212) 707-2144, website: http://www.atlantic-records.com.Management —Liz Penta, Emcee Artist Management, e-mail: [email protected] Booking —Mike Leahy, Concerted Efforts, e-mail: [email protected] edefforts.com.
Unfortunately Casseus, who could not continue playing in his later years, was never able to fully realize his musical vision for Haiti. However, the Folkways label began reissuing some of Casseus’s earlier work since his death in 1992. Meanwhile Ribot, out of respect for his former teacher rather than as a next logical step in his own progression, recorded some of his mentor’s compositions for Les Disques Du Crepuscle and plans to publish a book of Casseus’s sheet music. In addition to Casseus, Ribot names other guitarists such as Chuck Berry, Howlin Wolf’s accomplice Hubert Sumlin, Django Reinhardt, Grant Green, Fred Frith, Arto Lindsay, and especially Robert Quine as important stylistic influences. Specifically, Ribot cites Quine’s solo on “Wave’s of Fear” from Lou Reed’s 1982 album The Blue Mask as a revelation in guitar playing.
Despite his later status among the avant-gardists, Ribot prefers to describe himself as a soul musician at heart. Similar to the feelings Casseus held about his native music, the younger guitarist was likewise drawn to familiar American sounds as well as to classical works. In fact, soul formed the core of his soundtrack throughout his adolescence and teens in Newark. During these years, Ribot played in several local garage bands, the first of which played Wilson Pickett’Space Missing “Midnight Hour” and Booker T’Space Missing “Green Onions.” In 1978, Ribot crossed the river to New York City to work as a sideman for Pickett, soul music’s greatest throat-shredding testifier, and legendary jazz organist Jack McDuff.
The following year, Ribot joined the Realtones, who later became the Uptown Horns Band. The R&B group acted as a New York City pickup band for such Stax/Volt stars as Solomon Burke, Carla Thomas, and Rufus Thomas and became the regular house band at a club called Tramps. Remaining with the Realtones for the next few years, Ribot also played alongside several of New York’s no-wave musicians, in particular trombonist Peter Zummo and other SoHo experimentalists. “I think through some kind of weird accident of music, or social history, it seemed like there were people from, what before and since, were fairly separate worlds—contemporary classical, avant-garde jazz and punk rock. Which for a moment, seemed to cross paths,” Ribot recalled of the new music, no-wave scene of the late-1970s and 1980s, as quoted by Matthew Carlin for the Knitting Factory website. “So… you not only met, but played with, or wound up in bands with people who it wouldn’t have been the case. And that was exciting.”
Thus, through his participation in such a genre-merging environment, Ribot naturally gravitated toward introducing the R&B and soul stylings of his youth to the approaches of new music. In 1984, he began his five-year stint with John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards. Although the Lounge Lizards had previously worked together as a more narrow-in-scope jazz group, by the time Ribot joined their direction was beginning to change, enabling the newly recruited guitarist to experiment with various streams of music. Now a trained musician in classical, rock, soul, blues, and jazz, Ribot found himself in a group where “you could do extended soloing in a sort of free jazz context,” as quoted by Cowley. “There weren’t chord changes flying at you. You had to create other events than the harmonic changes to make a solo work.”
Whereas Ribot’s characteristic blending of blues guitar with a no-wave aesthetic helped to further distinguish the Lounge Lizard’s music, the group’s popularity and Lurie’s arthouse profile, in turn, brought Ribot to the attention of musicians outside the New York community who were also interested in disrupting traditional notions about music. Tom Waits, after hearing Ribot perform with the Lounge Lizards, approached the guitarist to play on his Rain Dogs album in 1985 and with his touring band. Over the years, Ribot joined Waits again for Frank’s Wild Years in 1987, Big Time in 1988, and Mule Variations in 1999. Playing with Waits led to further guest appearances with artists outside the new music scene, including, most notably, songwriter Elvis Costello for Spike in 1989, Mighty Like a Rose in 1991, and Kojak Variety in 1995.
All the while, Ribot had not been forgotten within the new music community. He became an increasingly in-demand guitarist and worked with such musicians as Arto Lindsay, Don Byron, Elliott Sharp, Anthony Coleman, T-Bone Burnett, the Jazz Passengers, Evan Lurie, the Sun Ra Arkestra, Chocolate Genius, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and John Zorn. On his own, Ribot recorded his own style of soul/new music as the leader of the Rootless Cosmopolitans and Shrek, as well as for a 1996 solo album Don’t Blame Me, an acclaimed collection of unaccompanied originals and jazz standards in the Thelonius Monk tradition.
In February 1997, Ribot assembled musicians for his Los Cubanos Postizos (The Prosthetic Cubans) ensemble, resulting in a lineup that included bassist Brad Jones of the Jazz Passengers and Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time, percussionist E.J. Rodriguez, and drummer Robert J. Rodriguez of the Miami Sound Machine. Starting out, they based their music around songs associated with the late Cuban composer and big band leader Arsenio Rodriguez, a superstar of the Latin music scene during the 1940s and 1950s, and immediately began a regular live schedule, including ongoing performances at New York City’s Knitting Factory.
The following year, Ribot and his Latin group released Marc Ribot Y Los Cubanos Postizos to a flurry of critical praise. Rolling Stone named it one of 1998’s “Essential Albums,” Guitar Player’s Joe Gore called the album “A brave and beautiful record from a musician who isn’t afraid to explore extremes of prettiness and ugliness, or to draw parallels between them,” and Jazziz declared the tracks “some of the scruffiest, most deliciously different Cuban music you’re likely to hear.”
After adding new member Anthony Coleman, a keyboardist known for his recordings with Zorn, Sharp, and Gary Lucas as well as for his own work as a member of the Sephardic Tinge and the Selfhaters, Ribot and his Los Cubanos Postizos returned in 2000 with Muy Divertido! By now the group, while still motivated by the work of Arsenio Rodriguez, had also found their own voice and moved toward a more unique musical expression. Special guests for the studio project included bassist/producer J.D. Foster, known for his work with country star Dwight Yoakam; keyboardist Steve Nieve, of Elvis Costello, Madness, and Squeeze fame; and singer/actress Eszter Balint. “Muy Divertido! is where the guitarist and his henchmen fully hit their stride,” concluded Jim Macnie in Down Beat. “It’s better than the first record, and better than any live show I’ve seen them do. It’s crazed and concise, a chops disc that banks on songs and is driven by a performance that effectively matches sound and attitude. It’s also the first great pop jazz album of the year.”
In addition to working in Latin music, Ribot continues to collaborate with a variety of musicians, especially Zorn, playing on the saxophonist’s Film Works albums and as a member of his Bar Kochba ensemble. Ribot has also written scores for film and dance pieces. His score for Yoshiko Chuma’s dance piece “Altogether Different” debuted in January at New York City’s Joyce Theatre. Other projects include the score for the documentary film Joe Schmo and his score for a new dance piece from Belgian choreographer Wim Vanderkeybus entitled “In As Much As Life Is Borrowed,” which made its debut in April of 2000 in Antwerp, Belgium.
Rootless Cosmopolitans, Antilles, 1990.
Shrek, Avant, 1994.
Don’t Blame Me, DIW, 1996.
Shoe String Symphonettes, Tzadik, 1997.
Marc Ribot Y Los Cubanos Postizos, Atlantic, 1998.
Muy Divertido!, Atlantic, 2000.
Audio, November 1998.
Boston Globe, July 24, 1998; May 18, 2000.
Down Beat, June 2000.
Guitar Player, June 1996; November 1996; January 1999.
Los Angeles Times, September 11, 1998.
Rolling Stone, December 24, 1998-January 7, 1999.
Village Voice, May 14, 1996; July 7, 1998.
Wire, December 1998.
Atlantic Records, http://www.atlantic-records.com (July 31, 2000).
Knitting Factory, http://www.knittingfactory.com (July 31, 2000).
Marc Ribot, http://www.marcribot.com (July 31, 2000).