Marc Ribot Plays Solo Guitar Works of Frantz Casseus
Marc Ribot’s contribution to the guitar is enormous – his catalogue is vast, he’s one of those players you’ve heard, even if you don’t know it. Alongside his own idiosyncratic catalogue he has recorded sessions or played live for soul giants (Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke), been on records by Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Madeleine Peyroux and many others – and was Tom Waits’ right hand man, helping to make the sound for some of the most crucial records in his idiosyncratic catalogue. He’s an improviser, a noise player, a jazzer, has a group dedicated to Latin music and, well, it’s all rather staggering.
Somewhere in there are a bunch of solo recordings – just Ribot and his guitar. And back before he was making elegant and interesting noises he studied informally with family friend Frantz Casseus.
Considered the father of Haitian classical guitar, Casseus set out to combine Haitian folk elements with European classical traditions – Hungarian folk songs – and touches of Brazilian music. He recorded three albums between the 50s and 60s and some of his songs were covered by artists as big as Harry Belafonte (Merci bon dieu). He also left a bunch of unrecorded pieces.
So, to further his legacy, to preserve and protect it, Ribot – fresh out of making noise with Lounge Lizards and Rootless Cosmopolitans and new to making solo records – decided to put down a set of solo guitar works from the Casseus compositions. This included five pieces that only ever existed on manuscript paper.
Now newly re-issued the original album is bumped up by three bonus recordings, is available for the first time on vinyl, once again on CD and of course newly to the streaming/digital formats.
I do remember listening to this at the time – or in fact about a decade after its initial 1993 release (which was when I discovered the vast Ribot solo canon). But it’s been a regular companion in recent weeks. There’s something about the expression of just a musician and a guitar – unaccompanied. The ‘voice’ is both in the music and the actual music. The ‘voice’ is the means to and the ends of/from the composition.
Ribot is sympathetic to the tunes, his calmed approach here is disciplined but never stale, stoic but never dull.
Opener, Simbi, established the mood and showcases the technique Ribot learned from Casseus. There are dramatic stops and flourishes – hints of the flamenco. There are also restful, gentle pieces (Prelude # 2) and dazzling showcases for both Ribot’s dexterity and the emotional weight of the compositions (Haitian Suite: Petro). It’s the sort of album where you feel the connection on first listen, you understand there’s some deep back story even before you read the notes to confirm it.
To the new pieces, Meringue Frangeul is soft and warm, a mere sliver of a piece, but it’s a perfect introduction to the new works, essentially working as an introduction to what amounts to an album-coda.
Sobo is a deeper study of the classical music roots that Casseus was exploring; this in fact not actually a composition by Casseus, although it is arranged by him. It comes originally from the pen of Ludovic Lamothe – and is here I think to show the wider study that Frantz was in service to.
And finally Nan Guinan, which is folkish in its opening – a circular finger-pick that wouldn’t be out of place on the early Leonard Cohen records. The tune though is rolling and as it unfolds we’re taken on a tour of flamenco technique and European classical melodies.
Such a glorious treat to have this music again. To hear Ribot’s dedication to his old friend and teacher – and from there to the music that they both served. This has been my regular walking soundtrack around the city. Listening to it on repeat some days. It is music as transportive art. It feels sacred. There is warmth. This is music that gives you itself as a hug.