Marc Ribot – The Young Philadelphians, Live in Tokyo – Yellowbird/Enja

Get a whole lot funkier and have some fun with Marc Ribot.

Marc Ribot – The Young Philadelphians, Live in Tokyo [TrackList follows] – Yellowbird/Enja yeb-7760, 53:55 [7/29/16] ****:

(Marc Ribot – guitar; Jamaaladeen Tacuma – bass; G. Calvin Weston – drums; Mary Halvorson – guitar; Takako Siba – viola; Yoshie Kajiwara – violin; China Azuma – cello)

Guitarist Marc Ribot has had some brash ideas for his music projects. His latest release may be one of his boldest. It’s certainly one of the funkiest. The 54-minute Young Philadelphians Live in Tokyo marries two seemingly incompatible musical legacies: Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic theory (specifically the material he wrote for his first Prime Time band) and the 1970s Philadelphia soul and disco scene. To render this concept a reality, Ribot enlisted fellow guitarist Mary Halvorson (who has recorded or toured with Anthony Braxton, Taylor Ho Bynum, Trevor Dunn and Ches Smith); bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma (who has worked with James Blood Ulmer and many others); and drummer G. Calvin Weston (whose résumé includes Ulmer as well as John Lurie). Both Tacuma and Weston were important to Ribot’s quartet, because both were in Coleman’s Prime Time group. To make things even more interesting, Ribot also utilized a string trio (viola, violin and cello) on select tunes. The main question a potential listener may ask is “Why?” But give this seven-track album a listen, and it’s “Why the heck not?” This is rambunctious, very alive music, filled with groove, energy and fun. It’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea: soul and jazz purists won’t necessarily appreciate this mash-up. But those with open minds and ears will find this entertaining and enjoyable.

Coleman’s Prime Time ensemble took soulful grooves and turned and twisted them around, so it makes a bent sense to take dance songs and deconstruct them. While much of the material is associated with the ‘70s Philly sound, Ribot stretches a bit to include Euro disco, the Ohio Players and some other non-Philly disco. The live proceedings kick open with “Love Epidemic,” The Trammps’ uplifting dance hit. The Young Philadelphians provide a harder edge, escalating the drive with a twin-guitar dynamism. Halvorson and Ribot complement each other tremendously, flaying out aggressive electric guitar lines, while the rhythm section bashes out a boisterous backbeat. The string section tries to sustain the pace, flitting with the tune’s melodic underpinning, and almost everyone shouts/sings the simplified lyrics about “spreading a love epidemic.” The foursome becomes somewhat melancholic on an expressive translation of Teddy Pendergrass’ “Love TKO.” This isn’t about getting hit over the head, it’s about a comfortable swing. The string trio layers a beautiful tier above the other players, Tacuma adds a pumping bass, and Weston tweaks the rhythm, keeping things slightly off-kilter. Gradually the guitars get forceful and by the conclusion, Ribot has moved to nearly heavy metal or grunge rock territory, slashing across his guitar strings. Ribot and Halvorson’s communication is also sweetly simpatico on the extended introduction to “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” a radio smash for the studio conglomeration, MFSB. For the first three minutes of the 9:22 track, Ribot and Halvorson converse on their six-string instruments, quietly climbing from a subtle and harmonious opening to a volley of louder notes, finely bolstered by the soaring strings and Weston’s percussive elements. The rest of the piece goes into funk terrain with a solid groove, and “TSOP” concludes with an anarchic section that moves from earthy to interstellar.

The remarkable thing is how far Ribot and his musical allies can re-decipher a tune and keep it recognizable. Case in point is what The Young Philadelphians do with the 1975 No. 1 single “Fly, Robin, Fly” from the Euro-disco band Silver Convention. This nine-minute translation could be a tad long for some, but the experience is one not to be missed. Ribot recites the chorus as a foundational aspect, while Tacuma and Weston go down a more hard-hitting rhythmic pathway, pumping up the rock/funk quotient. Halvorson’s solo goes even further from the source material, while still linking some points to the melody and proving why she’s considered one of the best new guitarists in the jazz/improv community. Later in the tune, Weston creates a resounding drum solo which briefly obliterates the disco base, but then the vocal chorus enters again, the beat comes back to earth, and the funk overtone courses along. Another standout is The People’s Choice million-selling “Do It Anyway You Wanna.” This features some of Halvorson’s most blistering guitar pyrotechnics and illustrates the way she can effortlessly move from loud to quiet, funky to fiery. Tacuma also supplies a bass solo which melds avant-garde expressionism with get-down funkiness. The concert concludes with a nine-minute version of Van McCoy’s influential disco hit, “The Hustle.” The cut’s curvilinear transformation conveys Ribot’s objective of fusing Coleman-tinted jazz with a funk/disco groove. There’s an extended prologue which unites emotive interpretation with poetical improvisation, and then the famous disco refrain begins. There is a stretch when the cheesy beat seems to take too much space, and then the quartet commences to craft a new musical output which incorporates inventiveness, uninhibitedness, and risk-taking. The reason Young Philadelphians Live in Tokyo works as well as it does is because the band brings imagination, a high degree of exuberance and a novel assertiveness to older, often-maligned music.

TrackList: Love Epidemic; Love TKO; Fly, Robin, Fly; TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia); Love Rollercoaster; Do It Anyway You Wanna; The Hustle.

—Doug Simpson

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