By Isa Jones
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One of the world's most versatile guitarists, Marc Ribot fronts a number of different projects and has played with heavies like Tom Waits, John Zorn, Elvis Costello and the Lounge Lizards. Ribot got his start three decades ago touring with legendary jazz organist Brother Jack McDuff.
The Marc Ribot Trio, like the guitarist's other group, Spritual Unity — which includes Trio members Henry Grimes and drummer Chad Taylor — is highly influenced by the spirit and music of Albert Ayler, particularly Grimes, who once played bass with Ayler. We spoke with Ribot about his trio and why the saxophonist has had such a big impact on him and the other players.
Westword: What made you want to form the trio after Spiritual Unity?
Marc Ribot: I wanted to do something that focused more on original material. I wanted to do something with the trio format, because that way, if I learn the material, Henry is a very particular player, and he can approach stuff very well. I was writing for what Henry was already doing. And Chad Taylor, the drummer, is such an intuitive player. He would respond and learn as soon as I played it, or he somehow knew what I was going to do before I did it. I don't know how he does it, but he's that kind of player. I found that with the trio, Henry was exactly the sound I wanted on these compositions. We did a couple of tours like that, and gradually, the group has moved more toward an improvising group. I started to realize — not because of any conscious decision — [that we should become] an improvising group. I thought, 'Well, the stuff we improvised was better than any of the stuff we learned. So why not improvise?'"
Is the spirit of Ayler still in those improvisations?
I think very much so. I think that when you hear Henry play, you're getting a window into a very particular kind of playing that Henry brought to the Ayler group and was also shaped by Henry's experiences. For both Chad and I, this is a major reference for us. So I would say yes, I hope so. Let me put it this way: I would aspire to that. Again, not because we said, "Okay, now we're going to be influenced by this," but because all of us had lived and worked with this material before.
What is about Ayler's music that resonates with you?
If you listen to it, right away it's very powerful music, very raw music. It's kind of, I'd have to say, the opposite of anything that could be called smooth jazz.