This Friday, October 21, the guitar-based duo of Marc Ribot and Sam Amidon will be performing at the Newport Casino in a show produced by Newport Live (formerly Common Fence Music). Both artists are highly regarded session players who tour regularly in a variety of musical settings.
(We have a pair of free tickets to giveaway to the show – please e-mail Ken Abrams at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Ribot Ticket Giveaway” in the subject line for a chance to win. E-mail by Thursday, Oct 20 at 9AM.)
I spoke with Ribot last week and learned this is not the first time he’s performed in Newport – he’s played the Newport Jazz Festival previously with John Zorn and “a couple of times with my own ensemble over the years,” he noted.
I asked the Newark, NJ native about the current tour with Amidon.
“I’ve performed with Sam live a couple of times, we’ve always enjoyed it, but it’s been in large group formats. I wanted to do something with him as a duo, because it would be easier to open it up and play with it a little more,” Ribot explained. “I adore Sam’s music, what he does in re-interpreting the tradition is just beautiful. I also have a bunch of songs and vocal material that I wanted to start doing in public, dipping my toe in the water.”
Although both artists have a long recording history, don’t look for a pre-planned setlist ahead of time for this show.
“It’s going to be both acoustic and electric,” said Ribot. “Sam plays banjo, violin, guitar, a bunch of things. I have a ton of stuff, and I have no idea what I’m really going to do. I’m notorious among the musicians I work with for being pathologically incapable of writing a set list,” he joked. “It’s not that I don’t write them, but I’ve never in my life played what I’ve written. When it actually comes time to play the tune and I’m sitting there in front of people I always get a much better idea.”
What you can expect is a lot of improvisation and creativity.
“Some of my stuff is straight ahead song form with instrumentals and soloing. I don’t know on any given night what will happen and that’s the beauty of it,” Ribot explained.
It’s impossible to nail down Ribot’s style or genre, he’s played everything from “no wave” to free jazz to Cuban music, while being known as a “go-to guy” in the studio throughout his 40+ year career. Just to be sure, I asked him what genre he fits in.
“I’ve done my best to make it impossible,” he says.” I bare the traces of the things I’ve been through which have included the “no wave” movement in New York, jazz, and free jazz. But I’ve also worked with a lot of singers, and I have a real affection for songs. The first thing that I learned on guitar that was not (Italian composer) Carcassi or a J.S. Bach transcription was “Masters of War” by Bob Dylan. That’s pretty near the roots of this tree. As with everything else, I don’t hear it in the same way I did when I was fourteen.”
That apprehension about being easily categorized is evident on Ribot’s recent release Songs of Resistance. The album, a star-studded collection released in 2018, was a response to the Trump presidency. It features rearrangements of familiar folk songs like “Ain’t Gonna Let Them Turn Us Around” and “We are Soldiers in the Army,” with guests including Tom Waits, Steve Earle, and Syd Straw. “I’m very glad I did that album, it was necessary. It was and is an agitprop work, in a political battle,” said Ribot.
As mentioned, Ribot is an in-demand session player, best known for his work with Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and John Zorn. He’s credited with helping to chart Waits’ direction on the groundbreaking album Rain Dogs, one of the first studio recordings Ribot played on.
“I’ve been lucky to work with artists who have been interested in my reading of what they’re doing. In the beginning, I was trying to be a one-size-fits-all session musician who could just play anything. I stopped trying to do that pretty early on, and it stopped being necessary. The producers who call me are looking for my input as somebody who arranges, at the very least, I arrange the guitar parts and try to make up hooks. I love doing it, I love being in the studio more than anything. The process of making recordings is a fantastic thing,” he said.
Ribot is working on a new album with his band Ceramic Dog, “in the studio, mixing, editing, and overdubbing,” he said. He’s headed to Europe in November for a run of solo dates. Meanwhile, check him out Friday at the Casino – it promises to be a memorable show.