You probably know Marc Ribot’s work, even if you don’t recognize his name. As a sideman, he’s appeared on albums by Tom Waits and Elvis Costello, and he was an understated star of the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss collaboration Raising Sand in 2007. Little of that adult-alternative session work, though, indicates Ribot’s freakier side, which is better reflected in his pairing with New York underground composer John Zorn and comes through clearly on this disc from his new art-pop trio Ceramic Dog.
Party Intellectuals is a sharp, occasionally dissonant—even atonal—but sometimes memorably melodic disc that crosses avant-garde jazz with funk, prog rock, and contemporary composition. The first song is a dense, perverse reworking of the Doors’ “Break on Through”; the centerpiece is the 10-minute guitar workout “Digital Handshake,” which sounds almost like free improvisation but is more likely a strictly composed work of clockwork precision; near the end there’s “Midost,” a bludgeoning collection of down-tuned Black Sabbath-meets-King Crimson riffs. But the emotional heart of the album is “For Malena,” a lovely, off-kilter mid-tempo piece that shimmers with Ribot’s love of Cuban music. The song shatters the air of academic experimentation that threatens to suffocate some of the murkier tracks on Party Intellectuals, and the utterly danceable foundation laid down by drummer Ches Smith and bassist Shahzad Ismaily gives life to Ribot’s rigorous formalism.