Music » Music Stories & Interviews

Rootless Ribot lands in Cuba



Marc Ribot is a relentless musical adventurer. The New Jersey native bashed it out in '70s garage bands before making a name for himself as a Downtown New York scenester in the '80s. He's applied his unique six-string textures and idiosyncratic solos to gigs and recordings with everyone from the Lounge Lizards to Tom Waits to Elvis Costello. The short list also includes avant-jazz kingpin John Zorn, Marianne Faithful, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio's "Surrender to the Air" project, the Jazz Passengers and Cibo Matto. But if forced to define the heart of his art, Ribot would have to point to rock & roll.

"I think in some strange way, my stuff comes out of rock, a very loosely defined rock," he says. "My history of rock also contains George Clinton, and Ornette Coleman's Prime Time band, and most of Albert Ayler's recordings. ... Obviously, there's other influences as well, like Django Reinhardt."

Ribot's voyage as a rootless cosmopolitan led to an immersion in the music of ArseƱio Rodriguez. The blind guitarist, who led the most influential Cuban big band of the '40s and '50s, played a guitar with three pairs of strings, each tuned to a different note.

"It's nice to find an overlooked virtuoso, which is what I would say Arseñio was," says Ribot. "What also interested me was -- since Cuban music hasn't developed like jazz or Brazilian music into complex harmonies -- rhythmic devices and amazing arrangements ... the things that move it forward. The chords are basically like rock chords in a lot of Cuban music."

Ribot felt an affinity for Rodriquez, and his enthusiasm for Rodriguez's music led to a gig with several pals playing Cuban tunes at a bar. The group unexpectedly got signed to Atlantic after their third show. The guitarist subsequently teamed with Coleman, Jazz Passengers bassist Brad Jones, percussionist E.J. Rodriguez, drummer Robert J. Rodriguez of Miami Sound Machine and organist John Medeski for an album-length tribute to the bandleader, who died in 1972.

The quirky, rhythm-deep result is called "Marc Ribot Y Los Cubanos Postizos (The Prosthetic Cubans)." Why push the point that Ribot and Co. are "fake" Cubans (with the exception of Robert Rodriguez?) "I wanted to announce right up front that I wasn't trying to pass," Ribot says. "I'm still a Jewish guy from New York, just like I was last year. I'm not so interested in the whole thing of authenticity."

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