AllAboutJazz | Club D’Elf: You Never Know (review)
By CHRIS MAY
March 7, 2022
Near-death experiences can reboot the mind, separating the important from the trivial. It seems to have worked like that for bassist and composer Mike Rivard, founder and leader of Boston’s world-dub-jazz band Club d’Elf. A few years back, Rivard was nearly felled by a pulmonary embolism while seeking spiritual insight in the Amazonian rain forest. A long, dark period of depression followed, before Rivard emerged recharged into the light, having been sustained in large part by gnawa, the Moroccan trance music which has been a cornerstone of Club D’Elf’s music since the band formed in the 1990s.
You Never Know is Club D’Elf’s third full-length studio album since it hit the turntables running with As Above: Live At The Lizard Lounge (Grapeshot) in 2000. And while the previous two discs are exalted enough, number three is your actual stone belter, the more so for being nuanced and well programmed.
The thirteen-piece collective line-up introduces some new faces but most of the musicians are band veterans. Every player gets their moment(s) in the spotlight, with the prominent inclusion of oud player Brahim Fribgane, keyboard players Paul Schultheis and John Medeski and guitarist David Fiuczynski. Memorable cameo roles come from tabla player Amit Kavthekar, saxophonist Andrew Rogliani and trumpeter Phil Grenadier.
The seventy-five minute, ten-track album includes two striking arrangements of traditional Maghrebi trance music (“Zeed Al Maal,” “Dervish Dance”), some choice jazz-funk (Rivard’s “Boney Oscar Stomp”) and inventive remakes of Frank Zappa’s “King Kong” (from his 1969 Bizarre album Uncle Meat), and Morocco’s pioneering world band Nass El-Ghiwane’s “Allah Ya Moulanna.” But the centrepieces, literally and artistically, are tracks five and six: Joe Zawinul and Miles Davis’ “In A Silent Way” / “It’s About That Time,” followed by Rivard’s electric-fusion “Dark Fish,” which cleverly evokes Davis’ Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970), the album which immediately followed Davis’ In A Silent Way (Columbia, 1969). Medeski and Grenadier are the star turns here.
You Never Know, which was mostly recorded live in the studio to analog tape with minimal overdubs, is thoughtful, possesses substance, is consistently imaginative… and fun.