By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
By Ray Cummings
By Nicholas Pell
By Chaz Kangas
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Sam Blum
Because Ribot is a member of John Zorn's downtown inner circle and a formidable deconstructionist in his own right, you look for irony in everything he does. But there's no irony to be found on his Silent Movies, nor is it missed. Of the films invoked, Chaplin's The Kid is the only actual silent; the others are obscure recent independents, or imaginary. But the resemblance to Frisell, who has scored Go West and other Buster Keaton films, isn't just in the idea of communicating in real time with a work fixed in the past; it's also in the sense of isolation that both guitarists can suggest when playing unaccompanied—and this is one area in which I think Ribot holds the upper hand.
I hope I'm not scaring anyone away by reporting that the mood throughout Silent Movies is so bleak that the grace of Ribot's touch and the ringing beauty of his tone amount to palliatives against despair. There's a strong hint of the mythic Old West even on the album's lone non-original, the Édith Piaf–associated "Sous le ciel de Paris," (familiar here as "Under Paris Skies"), a pop chanson with quick nods to Bach and Django Reinhardt in Ribot's interpretation. "Delancey Waltz" is a danse macabre, and a Spanish-flavored piece called "Radio" is all the more haunting for sounding as if it's coming through an old tube amplifier (indeed, it might be). Keefus Ciancia provides chilly electronic "soundscapes" to introduce a few tracks, and far from distractions, these intensify our perception of the guitarist as a man alone. Ribot channels Leone without going all Morricone on us. The image you come away with is that of the hero in a revisionist Western facing a situation in which he knows his blood or someone else's will be spilled, and his conscience tested even more severely than his courage. You also come away wondering why Ribot isn't as widely celebrated as Frisell. Don't tell me contemporary jazz has room for only one high-plains drifter.
This has been a banner year for left-of-mainstream guitarists on small labels, and near the top of the list, along with Silent Movies and Beautiful Dreamers, is Mary Halvorson's Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12), on which the big news is her emergence as a composer in whose scheme of things composition bears the same relationship to improvisation as tension does to release (like Henry Threadgill, in other words, who also springs to mind during Jon Irabagon's coiled alto solos). I can also recommend two new releases by the unsung veteran Joe Morris: Tooth and Nail (Clean Feed), an album of freely improvised idioglossia with Nate Wooley's trumpet; and the more structured, hivelike Camera (ESP), with cello and violin joining Morris and drummer Luther Gray.
Finally, there's I Never Meta Guitar (Clean Feed), an anthology on which 16 individual performers—including Halvorson, Cline, Brandon Ross, Jeff Parker, Scott Fields, Henry Kaiser, Noël Akchoté, Sharp himself, and a number of Europeans whose names are new to me—are given free reign. My own taste is for the few relatively conventional tracks here, like Cline's soft-spoken "Study for Hairpin and Hatbox" and Michael Gregory's roaring "Blue Blue." But those of you more captivated by noise than I can rest assured of hearing sounds undreamed of by Gene Autry, Elvis, or even Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot.