Club d'Elf: As Above: Live at the Lizard Lounge (Grapeshot / LiveArchive)
-Chris M. Slawecki

 In Press

Club d'Elf is currently in the midst of a Pennsylvania / New York club tour in support of As Above, live documentation of their rather incredible sound on two CDs.

Club d 'Elf began in 1998 when the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge (MA) offered to Mike Rivard, a veteran bassist who's worked with the Story, Shane Colvin, Paula Cole, and the Either/Orchestra, the opportunity to host a floating, freewheeling biweekly “open” night. These nebulous, experimental ensembles grew to include such musicians as guitarist Reeves Gabrels (Tin Machine, David Bowie) and drummers Kenwood Dennard (Jaco Pastorius, Pat Martino, Brand X) and Bob Moses (Pat Metheny, Dave Liebman, Emily Remler) with Rivard serving as composer, bassist, conductor — and ultimately as the de facto leader of a tripped-out and free-form funky Lizard Lounge houseband that he dubbed Club d'Elf.

The twenty songs and two- and one-half hours of sound and vision on As Above are drawn from six such shows at the Lizard, its shifting personnel including Gabrels and Dennard, Alain Mallet (Paquito D'Rivera, Paul Simon) on keyboards, guitarists Duke Levine and Ian Kennedy, Brahim Fribgane on oud, saxophonists Joe Maneri, Eric Hipp, and Tom Hall, DJ Logic on turntables, and Mat Maneri on violin.

Rivard and company consistently stretch out in rock solid grooves, and then really begin the fun. Toying with their sounds like they were balloons, they constantly poke holes in rhythms and themes, or squeeze the air out of them, and dexterously twist whatever they had been working on into other shapes. Jungle, free jazz, trance, smooth jazz, dub, acid jazz, jazz-rock, trip-hop, ambient, hip-hop…it's all swirling around in here, often with a Middle Eastern twist. The DJ-heavy songs sort of sound like Medeski Martin & Wood; the guitar heavy songs sort of like King Crimson; the songs with saxophone charts sort of sound like Groove Collective; and almost every song rocks on a fat backbeat. “Club d'Elf pretty directly reflects my stylistic interests,” Rivard allows. “I listen primarily these days to a lot of Moroccan music and free jazz and electronic music.”

Rivard roars like an absolute funk monster in the “left hand of clyde (parts 1, 2 & 3)” suite. The group stalks and then attacks “meet the monster tonight” as snorting, thundering electronic rhinos armed with hard rock guitars; in a similar vein, the bass/guitar unison statements in “get a little turning” crackle with the sharp blue tang of James Ulmer. Yet Rivard's supple and melodic turns in the island meditation “actual smiles” and in the jungle (complete with chattering monkey sounds) of “intro / bass beatbox” sound more traditional, albeit in exotic and unconventional settings.

It's good that Rivard documented Club d'Elf on tape, because you've almost got to hear As Above to believe it. It sounds like almost nothing except for perhaps Miles' 1970s free-funk experiments. (No band or song introductions are spoken on As Above, either, which furthers the comparison: Not only can't you tell what's going on, you can't even tell who's doing the what.) You can easily listen to it that way, by imagining the oud as Wayne Shorter's soprano saxophone and the turntables and loops as the rhythm guitar. After all, a flat-out murderous funk drumbeat is still a flat-out murderous funk drumbeat, and a bad-ass bass player is still…well, you know.

Club d'Elf will continue their bi-weekly gigs at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge on Thursday June 6 and June 20, with drummer Erik Kerr, guitarist Geoff Scott (Miracle Orchestra), and Mister Rourke (Soulive) on turntables joining Mallet, Rivard, and others. The band is also assembling their next studio album, currently planned to include John Medeski, DJ Logic, and the late Mark Sandman of Morphine.

-Chris M. Slawecki

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