Ceramic Dog is a new trio consisting of Marc Ribot, drummer Ches Smith and bassist Shahzad Ismaily, with Ribot standing democratically but firmly at the helm. Much of the disc has a multilayered and disarmingly retro vibe about it, showing up in the strangest places. The opening “Break on Through” is a wild, contemporary reading of the Doors classic-rock radio staple with compressed and distorted vocals, shifting rhythmic accents and layers of Ribot’s classy guitar. The title track opts for the counter to the ’60s counter culture with blatant references to free jazz. This is less of a surprise than the Jim Morrison cover, considering Ribot’s immersion in the music of Albert Ayler. Smith and Ismaily are completely onboard, diving headlong into the high-energy meterless miasma of late Coltrane.
To go even further back in time, the opening of “Digital Handshake” greets the late 1950s with open arms, as if Ismaily’s basslines are just waiting for some scronky saxophone to keep it company. Closer listening, however, reveals a Moog synthesizer, synthetic handclaps and overdriven drums that might have been lifted straight from one of Daevid Allen’s ’80s recordings. The strange chronological juxtaposition fades with the rhythm tracks, replaced but certainly not erased by a guitar duet in atonal counterpoint.
Only after the shock of genre and time warping wares off does the album’s real beauty become apparent. Each switch in gestalt is managed beautifully by these three talents, and after a few spins, they cease to draw attention to themselves. The ethereal voluptuousness of a track like “Shshshsh” is bound to attract those unimpressed by Ribot’s louder fare. Even a less successful track, like the empty funk of “Pinch,” slowly develops a modicum of soul on repeated listens. It’s not the sharpest note at this party; in fact, it’s the dullest. Then again, Ribot’s shindigs have always been all-inclusive. You never know who’ll show up. DUSTED