Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog

YRU Still Here?
NorthernSpy NS 098

Willers/Roder/Marien

Derek Plays Eric

Jazz Werkstatt JW 188

Seemingly revisiting their roots, improvising guitarists Marc Ribot of the US and Andreas Willers of Germany, attempt to graft more complicated textures onto the uncomplicated styles with which they began their careers – Willers as a Blues-Rocker and Ribot as a Folk-Rocker. Sticking close to the Power Trio configuration of guitar, bass and drums – plus some add-ons on Ribot’s CD – the power and fury is in evident, but whether musical complexity can change the concepts is open to discussion.

Probably what could be termed Punk-Jazz, Ceramic Dog’s 11 selections have Ribot not only propelling tough textures through instrumental dexterity, but also singing so-called protest songs. Sentiments, when they can be made out, from the guitarist’s delivery that combines the mumbles of Bob Dylan with the snarl of Johnny Rotten, are a combination of anarchistic and syndicalist sentiments. While some make their point through pure repetition, descriptive emphasis is better expressed instrumentally by Ribot plus Shahzad Ismaily on bass, Moog and percussion and Ches Smith on drums, percussion, electronics plus backing players and vocalists. Thankfully Willers only sings one song with clenched throat in a pseudo-Brit-Rock style. Instead his efforts and those of bassist Jan Roder and drummer Christian Marien are to somehow play up the linkage on the 13 selections between Derek (Bailey) and Eric (Clapton).

Obviously nonplussed by a Trump & associates-dominated United States, Ceramic Dog puts Reggae and Latin rhythms into play and hectors the establishment through vocoder-distorted lyrics. More nihilist than socialist, the vocals which get the strongest messages across are. “Fuck La Migra”, which is brutally performed at Ramones-like speed and wreaths slogans about immigrants, criminals and presidents in buzzing guitar fuzz; and “Muslim Jewish Resistance”, featuring no less than three vocalists shouting back at Ribot’s sloganeering, along the lines of “never again”. The instrumental expression encompasses wah-wah guitar licks and James Chance-like saxophone smears, played by Briggan Krauss.

Although instrumentally, the most emblematic track may be “Shut That Kid Up”, where logical elaborations from the guitarist shimmy and sway the theme from heavy rock to a climax that crams as many notes as possible into every bar, the most provocatively engaging on YRU Still Here are “Agnes” and “Orthodoxy “, the second of which is anything but. The first tune mates a pounding drum section with doubled-tracked vocals and a slashing guitar line that can’t decide between Rockabilly or from an early Kinks single. Meanwhile “Orthodoxy”, which begins with a sitar shimmy segues into conga drum backing of fuzz-tone guitar and alternates the shouted call-and-response vocals with disco-like guitar pops that could have been played by Chic, as electronic oscillations move across the sound field.

There’s nothing as elaborate as that on Derek Plays Eric. Although there are detours into themes by Mingus, Ellington, Jack Bruce/Pete Brown and John McLaughlin, the guitar Power Trio stance is maintained throughout, which is a bit of an oddity considering that Willers, Roder and /Marien are usually sound in the company of sound explorers such as Urs Leimgruber and Axel Dörner. But this busman’s holiday allows each player to explore many varieties of Blues-Rock, with the guitarist and bassist playing both acoustically and electrically. Truthfully trying to find a Derek Bailey thread among the musical inflections is nearly impossible, although echoes of several other guitarists come to mind. Besides those cited, the band takes a detour into Canterbury Rock on “Alexis & the North” where supple guitar lines echo, perhaps with an e-bow, among vibrating tempos; and “Plodding Along”, where rococo guitar chords, hard drum pops and an undulating bass line and manage to suggest Booker T. & The MGs. Oddly enough on Jack Bruce-authored tunes the bass progression, drum smacks and speedy guitar runs sound more Jimi Hendrix-like than anything Bruce recorded; and the speedy “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat/The Marshall Needs El Juicio” mash up with its bare wire guitar heroics and fluid bas slaps appears to take its cues from Jeff Beck’s 1976 version than Mingus’ original. Freed from comparisons more profound work appears on “Fettes Holz”, a superfast train blues that brings the best out of Willers’ fleet fingering, and “Laili”, a feature for Roder. Pleasant and low key, he’s in constant motion with an unbending bass narrative sometime stop-time and sometimes with cascading pumps. The concluding “Elementarfelder” is an appropriate ending for a pseudo-retro session like this. Soundtrack-like, the syncopated tune includes ghostly improvisation and electronic buzzing that harkens back to guitar instrumentals of the 1960s.

More engaging than earthshaking each of these albums is listenable and will no doubt impress many guitar fans. However good the music is however, neither band nor CD appears strong enough in execution to reach its individual stated goals. Maybe next time.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: YRU: 1. Personal Nancy 2. Pennsylvania 6 6666*~ =3. Agnes 4. Oral Sidney with a “U” 5. YRU Still Here? 6. Muslim Jewish Resistance+^ =7. Shut That Kid Up 8. Fuck La Migra*%~= 9. Orthodoxy$ 10. Freak Freak Freak on the Peripherique 11, Rawhide

Personnel: YRU: Marc Ribot (guitars, requinto, farfisa, bass, horn, vocoder, vocals); Shahzad Ismaily (bass, Moog, percussion, background vocals, vocals) and Ches Smith (drums, percussion, electronics, background vocals) w. Curtis Fowlkes (trombone)*; Briggan Krauss (alto saxophone+); Doug Wieselman (flute^; alto saxophone%); Neel Murgai (sitar)$; Mauricio Herrera (congas)@; Lukas Rutzen~, Rea Dubach= (backing vocals)

Track Listing: Derek: 1, Steampunk 69 2. Plodding Along 3, Roost'r/Tunnel Boogie 4. Gentle Maya: Dance of Maya / Eat Your Blues/Valedictory 5. I Ain't Got Nothing but the Blues/Hen's Teeth & Bee's Knees 6. The Politician 7, Alexis & the North 8. Laili 9. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat/The Marshall Needs El Juicio 10, I Repeat Myself II/The Stumble 11. Fettes Holz 12. HCKHH Blues/ Statues 13. Elementarfelder

Personnel: Derek: Andreas Willers (electric and acoustic guitar, voice); Jan Roder (bass and electric bass) and Christian Marien (drums)