AllAboutJazz: Night Sparkles review by CHRIS M. SLAWECKI

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AllAboutJazz: Night Sparkles review

December 1, 2019

On December 16, 2011, bassist and bandleader Mike Rivard and the rest of the floating Club d’Elf instrumental ensemble assembled at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge (MA), for their regular gig at the regular location in the extended live residency that the band began at the Lounge back in 1998 (and continues to this day). Guest musicians often dropped in after finishing their own Boston area gigs to join the Club and this evening would prove no exception, as Boston resident and master West African drummer Moussa Traore climbed onboard to help power and drive during the band’s second set.

“Moussa was someone I had heard a lot about but had never met or had the chance to play with,” relates Rivard. “It was immediately apparent that this was going to be serious, and he and our conga player Vicente Lebron had an amazing simpatico. It seemed like a good idea to let the percussion drive the music, and it was one of the more open and organic sets we’ve played.”

Club d’Elf is not a large ensemble: This version features Rivard (bass, sintir) and percussionist Lebron with Dean Johnston (acoustic and electronic drums), Paul Schultheis (synthesizers and keyboards) and David Tronzo (slide, rhythm, and lead electric guitar). And their music is highly repetitive but it is nowhere near simple. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: “Open and organic” is a great way to describe the percussion-driven, instrumental ecstatic trance that Night Sparkles reveals.

Edited into a single piece of music in six movements, Night Sparkles transports the listener onto a different plane. Rivard’s bass drives and steers the ensemble through the epic two-part adventures “End of Firpo” and “Ecstatic Cling” and tosses the “Ball of Confusion” Motown bass line into the open-ended African funk groove “Dance of the Machine Elves,” which also features white-hot percussive interplay between Traore, Lebron and drummer Johnston. Throughout, Tronzo unravels the studied recklessness of Robert Quine into fluorescent threads of jazz, rock, blues and even twangy country-western guitar.

Most of this stuff is just flat-out crazy but in the best possible musical way, as if the Sun Ra Arkestra happened to pick up the Wild Tchoupitoulas on Bourbon Street and then set their controls for the heart of the sun. If you’re a fan of their more percussion-driven trance music, Night Sparkles may be your ultimate Club d’Elf release. At least until the next one rolls and thunders along.

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