Chalk and cheesy really, these two groups; they have little in common beyond canine nominatives and the frontline presence of masterful American guitarists. But I find myself invariably playing these two albums back-to-back, usually in the order reviewed here. The capriciousness of Ceramic Dog is just the sanative required after Slobber Pup’s intensity.
Slobber Pup – Black Aces (Rare Noise)
Slobber Pup is a ravening beast of an improv unit. Named for bandleader Jamie Saft’s pet pooch, it was whelped by his 2011 Spanish Donkey collaboration with the Bostonian free-jazz guitarist Joe Morris. The pair recombine here to pretty damn devastating effect.
Morris is best known in jazz circles: he’s recorded some searing acoustic music in the past—with Hession/Wilkinson/Fell and David S. Ware, for example, and lately with the free jazz quartet Tony-Joe Bucklash—but nothing quite like this.
The Slobber Pup rhythm section unites electric bassist Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, The Melvins, Fantomas, John Zorn’s Moonchild) with Hungarian Grindcore and improv drummer Balazs Pándi.
Saft has session pedigree with New Zion Trio, Bad Brains, numerous John Zorn projects and many, many others: he knows Dunn from their joint membership of Zorn’s Electric Masada, and Pándi as drummer for his own band, Metallic Taste of Blood.
So, slobbery or otherwise, here’s a mutt with pedigree. As intelligent noise albums go, Black Aces is in the same elite class as Pándi’s recent collaboration with Merzbow and Mats Gustafsson, as heard on Cuts (also Rare Noise).
Lead track “Accuser” is a monolithic, 27-minute blast of Cerberean ferocity which vividly illustrates Morris’ conception of “glacial time feel”, as he described it in a press release: “Everyone is experiencing pulse but the obvious modes of marking it are subverted and the focus goes to the larger arc of the music. Most free music is mired in experiencing each small moment. Our music goes to a much broader sense of form and exposition.”
Saft plays predominantly in long sustains, producing drone effects and unsettling discords that channel but don’t constrain Dunn’s fuzzed-up throbbing. With Pándi playing unfettered from his Grindcore roots, this music has much in common with the Euro power fusion of Scorch Trio, Caspar Brötzmann Massakre, or the recently-DS-reviewed Grand General and Møster, but its larval intensity connects back to and repurposes the wired charge of elec. jazz in scuzzier, wilder ways.
“Basalt” is a short, punchy palate-cleanser, allowing the quartet to flow before they wreak further devastation with “Black Aces”. Here Pándi’s up for it from the start, but Saft and Morris pull back, allowing other textures to intrude in the way of traditionally ‘free’ music’s fleeting incidents and accidents. Saft essays clean piano tones before settling for whirling Hammond that alternately swaddles Morris’s fleetest, cleanest runs and chafes his chordal sustains; but once Dunn and Pándi lock in, the power surge is on, culminating in shades of Deep Purple run wild.
The Pups ease back on “Suffrage”, a more structured, mid-tempo fusion-funk number, on which Morris’ tunefulness cuts through before being strung taut; also, initially, on the closing “Taint of Satan”. But “Taint” becomes increasingly intense, Morris excoriating amid glowering organ sustains over an initially punitive downtempo rhythm that inevitably snowballs. It’s another gloriously bracing draught of the (really) hard stuff.
Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog – Your Turn (Northern Spy)
Ceramic Dog is essentially a power trio, but though their playing sometimes suggests an inclination to join Slobber Pup in the music’s deep end, they mostly stick to the comparative shallows, having po-mo fun.
The trio is led by guitarist Marc Ribot, who’s best known from association with Tom Waits, John Zorn and Elvis Costello but has an impressive back catalogue of his own. This includes solo albums and others by groups dedicated to Albert Ayler (Spiritual Unity), Latin music (Los Cubanos Postizos) and NYC art-punk (Shrek). Ceramic Dog takes its lead from the latter.
Your Turn is an album drawn from a native New Yorker’s blues-based, post-no-wave punker songbook, with nods tipped to Tin Pan Alley and Nu Yorican Latin music. It’s Ribot at his most bloody minded and, conversely, his most playful and commercially biddable.
The first Ceramic Dog album, Party Intellectuals came out in 2008, and I’d already seen them play live by then, so it’s a mature outfit. When they play such schizophrenic music, perhaps that’s more than usually important. They are by turns intense, relaxed, and knowingly goofy.
Ribot’s partners are bassist Shahzad Ismaily and drummer Ches Smith. Guests include, on one track only, Ribot’s confrere Arto Lindsay on second guitar, albeit Lindsay’s influence on the low-rent Cole Porter spoof “The Kid Is Back” is felt more in Ribot’s vocal phrasing and the tune’s Tropicália twist than in his barbed guitar.
“Masters of the Internet” features a Material-style elision of urban and Moroccan beats pierced by the split-reed piping of Don Willis’ Zurna and oboe. A handful of tracks are embellished with samples, and contributions from multi-instrumentalist Eszter Balint include melodica on the eccentric “Mr. Pants Goes to Hollywood”, a Tom Waitsian pots-n-pans shuffle; and violin on an Eastern-tinged bruiser, “Special Snowflake”.
Ribot doesn’t play only guitar. He plays E♭ horn on four tracks, and adds trumpet to two of those. He also plays melodica, as well as bass, on a 00:57 march-cum-sound-collage titled “Avanti Popolo”, which segues into “Ain’t Gonna Let Us Turn Them Around”, a dry skiffle set to a jaunty Jamaican rhythm.
It’s only in reviewing this album track-by-track that I really get a handle on how whimsical it is; an impression generally muscled aside by its more bullishly macho tracks. Of these: album opener “Lies My Body Told Me” is a doozy, a louche, bluesy lope; its follow-up, “Your Turn” a brisk, streamlined rocker with Ribot double-tracking solos; “Ritual Slaughter” is a kicker, another vehicle for Ribot to burn, with just a slight nod to Albert Ayler in its melody; and “Prayer” is the album’s most angry and abrasive track, with raw switchback dynamics, and some terrifically abrasive guitar clipped in and out of distortion effects.
Ribot also fret-flays a solo on the anthemic “Bread and Roses”, a song that retools a poem originally penned in 1911 as a paean to solidarity and taken up by the 70s Labor movement. Its militant intent sits uneasily amid other lyrics about “just trying to make some girl” (“Lies My Body Told Me”), download culture (“Masters of the Internet”) and nothing much in particular (“We Are the Professionals”).
The latter is a horn-bolstered goof on the Beastie Boys’ white punker rap. And why not; ditto “Take 5”, a rumpus room rewrite of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”.
Your Turn is likely to confound any expectations you might have of it, but its idiosyncrasies make for a powerful and disarming album.