Rootless Cosmopolitans was guitarist Marc Ribot's early and quixotic stab at commercial semi-success, a quasi-rock band filtered through free jazz and noise. Clarinetist Don Byron shares the lead instrumental work with Ribot and the two, backed by the imaginative keyboards of Anthony Coleman, certainly make for a unique ensemble sound, far more thorny than your standard rock fare. They do include covers of a couple of boomer classics, Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary" (featuring a harsh backing of Ribot's disaffected vocals) and a solo Ribot rendition of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Indeed, harshness, even a certain sourness, is one of the abiding qualities of this disc. Fans who know Ribot from the beautiful surf-inspired tones he generates in his work with John Zorn on both the latter's soundtracks and in the Bar Kokhba ensemble won't find such dulcet sounds here. Some cuts, like "The Cocktail Party," get into a bit of a Captain Beefheart-ian mode, others are reminiscent of Ornette Coleman's Prime Time groups. Led by Coleman's spacy organ, the group gels in a pleasantly incoherent manner on "Nature Abhors a Vacuum Cleaner" and Byron, on bass clarinet, leads them through a tender reading of "Mood Indigo." There is a decent amount of enjoyable music here, but it's hit and miss, very much a grab-bag affair. All of the musicians involved went on to do finer work later in their careers, though, so what value Rootless Cosmopolitans retains tends toward the historical.
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AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick