Settling into his chair at the Conga Room, guitarist Marc Ribot greeted the crowd with a friendly “buenos noches.” The words sounded incongruous in his New Jersey accent but proved an appropriate entree to his galvanizing 90-minute set, in which Ribot continued his exploration of Cuban music.
Calling his band Los Cubanos Postivos (Prosthetic Cubans), Ribot makes no claim to “authenticity,” but there can be no doubt as to his sincerity and respect for the music. Drawing heavily from the work of Cuban bandleader Arsenio Rodriguez, Ribot and his four-piece band retain the general shape and sound of Cuban tres and son music, but run it through the filter of their avant-rock and jazz sensibilities.
They end up with a sexy, smoky amalgam. If the Buena Vista Social Club plays with an urbane grace and elegance, Ribot’s take is jaggedly athletic and urban, often conjuring up the image of Havana-on-the-Hudson. The deft rhythm section nails the propulsive charge of Cuban music, but there’s an undeniable rock feel to Roberto Rodriguez’s drumming, while Anthony Coleman’s soulful Hammond B-3 gives the music a pop charge. Holding it all together is the mercurial Ribot’s consistently inventive guitar work.
His performance was never less than enthralling, ranging from an Ennio Morricone moodiness on “Jague” to the fiery energy of “Baile Baile Baile.” No matter how harmonically complex his playing became, he never lost sight of the music’s rhythmic base, keeping even the most abstract numbers grounded.
As Cubans, Ribot and his band may be prosthetic, but they never lose sight of that word’s Latin root: to add or extend. As musicians, they did both.