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Published: 2006/04/03
by Jesse Jarnow

Marc Ribot & Henry Grimes, Issue Project Room, Brooklyn- 3/16

NYC ROLL-TOP: Marc Ribot in the Round Room

"Brooklyn in the house!" Marc Ribot said, seemingly surprised at the standing room only crowd at the Issue Project Room.

"The house is in Brooklyn," someone up front shouted.

Technically, the silo is in Brooklyn, down through the edge of the boho-yuppified Carroll Gardens, and into the old industrial zone on the banks of the Gowanus Canal. There, one passes through a gate, into a lot (replete with dog house and a berthed boat), down a path, and — finally — to the pair of connected silos recently occupied by the Issue Project Room. Since relocating to Brooklyn and beginning regular booking several months ago, the venue has offered (among many other events) Beat poetry readings by actor Steve Buscemi, drum classes by Billy Martin (called "enhance your inner cricket"), and — most recently — "solo duo month."

It's not hard to see why musicians enjoy presenting there. Tucked away by the canal, it recalls an arts space in some urbane corner of Europe. The round performance room (entered only via fire escape or a hidden door in the floor) feels almost magical. With no stage, and rows of folding chairs, the sightlines ain't great, but the vibe is. Beanbags would be a nice improvement, though that probably wouldn't fly with the grown-ups who packed avant-garde guitarist Marc Ribot's solo/duo performance with legendary free jazz bassist Henry Grimes on March 16th.

If Ribot has mellowed somewhat since his years as the sneering leather-jacketed blues hornet of the old Knitting Factory crowd, his musical palette has only expanded. His hair going silver, his jacket exchanged for a blazer, and hipster-reading glasses perched on his nose, Ribot is a downtown statesmen. His solo acoustic set was masterful. Improvising, he skittered through self-dialogues: rhythmic blues see-saws, discordant Django Reinhardt swings, and intricate arpeggios, gorgeous and abstract.

Reprising and developing themes, Ribot's parts combined like images mounted on rotating gears, a complete picture forming only occasionally. Ribot, who has taken to singing in a style vaguely reminiscent of his occasional boss, Tom Waits, only sang one vocal number, an angularly lonely croon about the prairie. His guitar playing was no less weird, and he continued improvising, ultimately arriving at "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," where the panels aligned and the set ended.

Henry Grimes — who played with Benny Goodman, Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor, Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler, and countless others in the 1960s — abruptly dropped out of the jazz scene suddenly in the early '70s at the age of 31, sold his instrument, and fell off the face of the earth. Resurfacing in 2002, Grimes has been welcomed back to the stage with open arms. In his Cosby sweater and headband, he struck an interesting contrast to Ribot.

Musically, the two were of one mind. Grimes — playing the scuffed green bass donated by William Parker — danced about the neck, playing warmly oblique countermelodies to Ribot's ice pick stabs and note clusters distinctly recognizable as jazz (albeit filtered through Ribot's intentionally grotesque voice). The two handed off lead and rhythm duties, each holding down the fort while his partner shot skywards. Sometimes, they went together.

Note flurries dissolved into dissonant extrapolations, as Ribot attacked the strings behind his guitar's bridge, his fingers like piano hammers. It was Grimes who led the show to its poetic ending, finding a two-note pattern and drifting with it, languidly discovering a pulse no one else could hear that seemed to have been there the entire time. Ribot faded himself out, and Grimes did the same.

Jesse Jarnow blogs at

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