Often just below Nels Cline on the guitar-hero radar, avant-garde guitarist and downtown New York City mainstay Marc Ribot has carved out a massive place for himself in many genres. He has worked with Tom Waits, John Zorn and Marianne Faithful, and his own recent band, Spiritual Unity, which has done its part to revive the work of free-jazz saint Albert Ayler. Ribot is at home in jazz, punk, psych-out improv and soul. But on Party Intellectuals, by his current project, Ceramic Dog, he focuses more on straight-on rock.
Well, nothing with Ribot is exactly a straight take. The opener, a drone, fuzz-drenched cover of the Doors’ “Break on Through,” is immediately followed by the jerky, funk-fusion of the title track, a tune that would not at all be out of place on any Adrian Belew record.
Ribot is working out of the trio format on this set, and bassist Shahzed Ismally (Will Oldham, Laurie Anderson), along with drummer Ches Smith, not only keep a solid bottom for Ribot to riff from, but they also drive the explorations in genre bending. The vocals are mixed throughout as if the goal was to sound like a stoned ’70s late-night DJ; they hang over the tracks like disembodied commentators. Guest vocalists Janic Cruz and Jenni Quilter add to the ethereal trippiness.
For the most part, this is a prog-funk-punk explosion, but there are other moments — such as the ambient drone “When We Were Young and We Were Freaks” and the darkly trippy “Bateau,” which sounds like a muddy “Exile on Main Street” outtake — where Ribot and company aim for atmospheric soul rather than shredding or P-Funk testifying. Other highlights include the shredders “Never Better” and “Midost,” the Waits-esque “For Malena,” and the poignant drone of “SHSH SHSH.”
At times, Party Intellectuals is as close to a straight raw rock sound as Ribot has come, though this record is all about uncorking a heavy dose of his improv/punk/soul/noise/free-jazz vocabulary, with some drone, some Moog, a little Latin, and a little blues tossed in. Fans of 2005’s Spiritual Unity will find something worthwhile here, as will those more into Ribot’s work with Zorn or his Yo! I Killed Your God record from 1999. Whatever Marc Ribot delivers, he does so with a reverence for style and an irreverence for boundaries.