String Theory: Reviewing 'Party Intellectuals'

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Marc Ribot has established a reputation as a guitar original — someone who crosses genres to create good music. Reviewer David Was shares his thoughts on Party Intellectuals, the debut recording from Ribot's band Ceramic Dog.

DAVID WAS: Guitarist Marc Ribot is the kind of player who never met a music genre he didn't like.


Reviewer David Was has this take on new work from musician Marc Ribot.

WAS: He is mercurial in the best possible sense, impossible to categorize neatly, and unwilling to admit he's either a jazz musician or anything else. With characteristic lack of pretension, he has said of his music, I like stuff that rocks the house, and if it's original, then great. What I don't like to hear is ambition.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: By "ambition," Ribot means technical facility for its own sake, that is, the most notes per bar line wins the trophy. On Ribot's new album, "Party Intellectuals," with his trio Ceramic Dog, he plays with his usual deceptive casualness, substituting a postmodern wit and elliptical phrasing for the jam-band virtues of riffing 'til the audience drops from exhaustion.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: One expects this recording to be nothing less than a meditation on modern music. After all, it's from an artist whose work is closely aligned with the downtown Manhattan experimentalism of the 1980s. Ribot was house guitar man for the movement centered around the New York club, the Knitting Factory. He played with the likes of John Zorn and the Lounge Lizards, before joining Tom Waits on albums like "Frank's Wild Years," and "Rain Dogs."

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: The Waits aesthetic has infected Ribot's Ceramic Dog project in a good way.

(Soundbite of song "For Malena")

WAS: His song, "For Malena," feels like a cross between Latin American Cumbia dance music and a sea shanty, and it has a lyrical sensibility that may owe its roots to Ribot's tent-packing beat poet, Allen Ginsburg. His humble vocals are those of a guitarist, but his lyrics show flashes of brilliance. I like the rhyme, "Sweeps up all last night's confetti, and he gets her breakfast ready, for Malena."

(Soundbite of song "For Malena")

Mr. MARC RIBOT: (Singing) Wakes up early in the morning. Clears the bottle from the table. Sweeps up all last night's confetti. And he gets her breakfast ready for Malena.

WAS: But no one track on "Party Intellectuals" prepares you for what may come in its wake.

(Soundbite of song "Todo el Mundo es Kitsch")

WAS: On the song "Todo el Mundo es Kitsch," vocalist Janice Cruz plays Astrud Gilberto to Ribot's ennui-drenched playboy. It's a lounge music send-up that begs for a pitcher of martinis as accompaniment.

(Soundbite of song "Todo el Mundo es Kitsch")

Ms. JANICE CRUZ (Vocalist) and Mr. RIBOT: (Together) En Granada, we tour the Alhambra.

Ms. CRUZ: For lunch...

Mr. RIBOT: Por almorzar...

Ms. CRUZ and Mr. RIBOT: (Together) We have gambas. In Saint Tropez, We tanned on the beach. Todo el mundo es kitsch.

WAS: And just when you thought you had him pegged, he does a funk-punk workout of the Doors first single, "Break on Through (To the Other Side)."

(Soundbite of song "Break on Through (To the Other Side)")

WAS: It is pure anarchic noise and unbridled rhythm, and proof positive that Marc Ribot sees no border between genres, only opportunities to surprise and entertain.

(Soundbite of song "Break on Through (To the Other Side)")

Mr. RIBOT: Day destroys the night. Night divides the day...

BRAND: Our reviewer is David Was. The album is called "Party Intellectuals" from Marc Ribot's band, Ceramic Dog. Day to Day is a production of NPR News, with contributions from Happy 4th of July, everyone. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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