Layers Centuries and Cultures into Irresistible Grooves by Mel Minter
Club d’Elf, Live at Club Helsinki (Face Pelt Records)
Now I think I know how the cobra feels as it sways hypnotically over its coiled body, hood open, eyes fixed on the charmer. When I hit Play to start up Live at Club Helsinki (Face Pelt Records), the latest release from Club d’Elf, I dropped instantly into a similar condition, completely mesmerized by the groove-based sounds—and what sounds they are.
This self-described “Moroccan-dosed psychedelic dub jazz collective from Boston” layers centuries of musical cultures—from ancient Gnawa trance music to edgy hip-hop to free jazz to good ol’ rock and roll jams—into a coherent and compelling soundscape, employing a wide range of instruments. There’s acoustic oud and sintir (an African bass banjo with three gut strings whose carved-out wooden body is covered in camel skin), mellotron, flute, an electronic DJ setup that spawns outrageously imaginative samples, a Telecaster, and much more. The 12 tunes on this two-CD set, available January 10, are equally wide-ranging, from originals to a reggae cover (The Gaylads’ “Africa”) to ancient music from North African traditions (the stunning “Zeed Al Maal”). You can dance to all of it, or you can just lay back on your cozy couch and let the music unspool synesthetic pleasures on the film screen of your mind. Whichever you choose, you won’t want the music to stop, and it doesn’t, segueing from one tune to the next. Each track develops in a satisfyingly organic and unhurried way, with different instruments and textures flowing into the groove at different places, like tributaries feeding a river. The river just keeps flowing, with new views around every bend.
The core group of this musical collective comprises Mike Rivard (basses), Dean Johnston(drums), Mister Rourke (turntables), and Albuquerque’s own Brahim Fribgane (oud, percussion, vocals). Each demonstrates exceptional musicianship, but special mention must be made of Mister Rourke, whose inspired samples, perfectly pitched and rhythmically centered, extend the band’s sound into unique territories. A rotating cast of musicians, as well as special guests, changes the identity of the band at every performance. On this live recording, the band is augmented by John Medeski (B3, piano, electric piano, clavinet, mellotron, melodica), Duke Levine (guitar), and Thomas Workman (flute on two tracks).
Albuquerque audiences will have an opportunity to hear Fribgane this weekend at the Outpostin a guest appearance with the Moroccan duo Aza, which blends traditional Berber music with other influences.