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We Are the World Music: Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot play the S.F. Jazz Fest

Wednesday, Nov 5 2003
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Given that jazz is widely acknowledged as the international language of music, it makes sense that two of the genre's top guitarists -- Bill Frisell (pictured) and Marc Ribot -- have found themselves at home in front of the globe-trotting combos the Intercontinentals and los Cubanos Postizos, respectively. Frisell's multiethnic sextet features members from all over, including Malian percussionist Sidiki Camara, Greek oud and bouzouki maestro Christos Govetas, renowned Brazilian guitarist and vocalist Vinicius Cantuaria, and U.S. representatives Greg Leisz (on pedal steel guitar) and Jenny Scheinman (violin). Though the world-music instruments lend the band a subtle exoticism, the Intercontinentals' sound is clearly shaped by Frisell's compositional finesse, which often blends gorgeous string melodies with light but steady backbeats. The combined effect at times borders on New Age sedation, with faint echoes of Bill Laswell's trance fusions, but the guitarist's smart, spacious arrangements ultimately shimmer with a singular ambience that begs world peace.

Hard-bitten New Yorker Ribot cares less about evoking tranquillity than raising the roof with the sultry allure of island culture. His motley gang of "prosthetic" (fake) Cubans plays old-school covers and originals that are largely an homage to legendary bandleader Arsenio Rodriguez, who founded an early form of steamy salsa in the '40s and '50s. The guitarist pits his aggressively melodic six-string against an upbeat syncopation of Afro-Cuban polyrhythms for an infectious groove that's both hot and cool. With the global solidarity of Frisell's band but a more full-blooded energy onstage, Ribot's Cubanos Postizos play the kind of jazz that truly knows no borders.

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Sam Prestianni

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