The famous quote describing the ubiquitous NYC composer George Gershwin was that he had one foot in the door of jazz and the other steeped in classical music. As far as contemporary guitarists go, Marc Ribot has stepped into about as many doors as I can possibly imagine. Coming from punk and no wave to become an influential sideman to both Tom Waits and John Zorn, he has played soul, country, Latin, jazz, experimental, Americana and beyond. Those of us who crowded into the upstairs of the Greenwich House Music School were treated to an unusual but sublime treat: Ribot paying tribute to his mentor, Haitian jazz guitarist Frantz Casseus as part of their “Uncharted” concert series.
Armed with just an acoustic guitar and few words, Ribot broke into a series of short and beautiful pieces from the Casseus songbook, including a few pieces discovered in his notebook after his death. Arranged for solo guitar, the pieces showcased Ribot’s tasteful and adept playing, combining folky picking with jazz runs, often playing the chords and melody at the same time. The songs were pretty, often lullaby-like compositions, with laid back shuffled rhythms. Most impressive was Ribot’s take on the four part “Haitian Suite,” a truly incredible composition.
To cap off the night, Ribot introduced Haitian singer Emeline Michel to perform the final four numbers. Called the “Haitian Joni Mitchell,” she sports a full, rich and jazzy voice, an easy compliment to Ribot’s nimble guitar playing. The two played selections of traditional Haitian folk that Casseus had recorded. Being a novice listener of Haitian jazz, I found the performance interesting and fun. And it brought to light an important musician with whom I had not yet been acquainted.
– Jamie Frey