The first international tour guitarist Marc Ribot embarked on back in 1979 was as a member of Captain Jack McDuff’s Hammond B-3 combo. The pair didn’t always see eye-to-eye musically and never got around to recording anything together, and the guitarist remembers getting the “death ray” from the keyboardist from time to time when their aesthetic tendencies diverged. Looking back on that formative period Ribot has said, “McDuff’s US audiences—the so-called Chitlin Circuit—were just the hippest in the world: sophisticated about the music, definitely…but also demanding the deepest soul while rewarding restraint in its expression. What this brought out in the musicians was every bit as intense as the music taking shape at CBGBs at the time. In fact, I always felt the two scenes had something in common, and I’ve been trying to express exactly what ever since.”
Indeed, that soul vs. punk ethos has been quite clear in his music, which has only occasionally featured an organ player—like Los Cubanos Postizos, who play Big Ears this year—but he has found a simpatico groove partner in Hammond B-3 dynamo Greg Lewis, who straddles the tradition’s greasy side with a more modern post-bop sensibility, including his long-running practice of translating the harmonically tricky and melodically jagged music of Thelonious Monk. His most recent release in that endeavor—the 2018 album Organ Blue Monk—featured Ribot and drummer Jeremy Clemons collectively reshaping, reharmonizing, and replanting Monk’s indelible themes in new soil. Here and there Ribot comps in the classic organ combo manner, but, naturally, he also draws well outside of the lines. His solo on “Blue Sphere,” for example, taps straight into the blues, an unholy burst of overdriven tones that slash through the stabbing organ swells of the bandleader.
There’s no missing their musical connection, so it’s no surprise that they launched a collective called the Jazz-Bins, an organ trio with a revolving cast of drummers. The same funk vs. punk approach endures, but here their polarities are more intense with more traditional blues forms.