Sunday, April 29, 2018

CD review: CERAMIC DOG, 'YRU Still Here?'

Ceramic Dog, YRU Still Here? (Northern Spy 2018)

CD Review by John Pietaro

Marc Ribot- guitars, requinto, farfisa, bass, e-horn, vocoder, vocals
Shahzad Ismally-bass, Moog, percussion, background vocals, vocals in Urdu
Ches Smith- drums, percussion, electronics, background vocals

Rea Dubach (2,6,8) and Lukas Rutzen (2, 8)- background vocals
Curtis Fowlkes – trombone (2, 8)
Maurice Herrera – congas (2)
Broggen Krauss – sax (6)
Neel Murgai – sitar (9)
Doug Wieselman – sax (6), flute (2)

Marc Ribot’s career as Downtown guitar guru has found its natural place, some 40 years hence, fronting Ceramic Dog. This trio, with a variety of guests layered into the mix, realizes the guitarist’s current vision of this uncategorizeable genre—you know, the one he helped to forge when the East Village was affordable. Increasingly, Ribot has added vocals to his performance, raw, guttural, biting vocals, and his fluid, boundless guitar playing endeavors into hardcore effortlessly. In Ceramic Dog his kindred rhythm spirits, drummer Ches Smith and bassist Shahzad Ismally, happily wade waist deep into the big muddy of this thickened soundscape. Unlike other experimental ensembles that reach into punk for inspiration, Ribot’s pedigree gives license to overdriven rapid-fire crunch chords as much as acoustic finger-picking. And as Smith and Ismally are equally adept at alternating from pensive whisper to merciless throb, manifold artistry is on full display. Perhaps the only aspect of YRU Still Here? more apparent than its eclecticism is the decidedly radical stance Ribot thrives on. Like the ‘60s Free Jazz artists whose instrumental cries echoed Black Liberation, Ribot has always used his music’s core emotions as a gateway toward protest. Here, the call is for unity in defiance of oppression, with liner notes citing the Trump-directed Immigration raids on working-class communities as “tyranny”, and stating that musicians must “amplify the voices of rage in our community”. There are quiet moments to be sure, but Ceramic Dog is always on the hunt for agitation.

The album opens with the distortion-laden “Personal Nancy”, a brief, driving work, before moving into the more tempered “Pennsylvania 6 6666” (Glenn Miller allusion?). Things boils over with selection 8, “Fuck La Migra”, which sonically spits into the face of the current Administration. But it’s also about the music: a post-punk funky foray screaming with masterful Ribot guitar (McLaughlin fans will stop in their tracks), Curtis Fowlkes’ trombone, Mauricio Herrera’s perpetual-motion congas and Smith’s downright swinging drum break. Another standout selection, “MuslimJewish Resistance”, is a hip hop flavored solidarity piece excoriating the rightward forces that grow fat on Jewish/Muslim division. Revel in Briggan Krauss’s furious tenor saxophone solo signaling a call to arms. But then “Orthodoxy”, one of several instrumental selections, is a deft fusion of Arabic and South Indian traditions colored with boundary-stomping improvisation. With Ribot, there’s no room for hesitation; this ensemble draws on a heritage of fearlessness and YRU Still Here? is a vital recording for tumultuous times.

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