AllAboutJazz – Review of Night Sparkles

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AllAboutJazz review of Night Sparkles
By KARL ACKERMANN
April 4, 2019

For the Boston, Massachusetts-based Club d’Elf, the boundaries are long gone; they may never have been there to start with. Almost twenty years ago, the group debuted with Live at The Lizard Lounge (Grapeshot Media, 2000), an amalgam of jazz, electronica, hip hop, and funk. At times, the group (always a fluid entity) has included accordion, oud, didgeridoo, doumbek and qaraqab standing comfortably next to guitars, bass, keyboards, and horns. If it weren’t obvious from the instrumentation, this is not a group to be categorized by genre. Two decades and a dozen albums later, Night Sparkles continues to provide listeners with inimitable musical adventures.

Mike Rivard founded Club d’Elf in 1998 and has deep ties to a broad swath of Bostonmusic history. The bassist started the group with encouragement from another Boston legend, Mark Sandman, the late front man of the legendary indie band Morphine. Sandman and Rivard played together in a band called Hypnosonics and, following Sandman’s untimely passing, Rivard played with two offshoots of Morphine, Orchestra Morphine and Vapors of Morphine. In turn, Sandman and saxophonist Dana Colley, a key member of each band, have appeared with Club d’Elf. Rivard also works with the Boston Pops Orchestra and plays the sintir, a Moroccan three-string bass/guitar hybrid.

Drummer Dean Johnston, a later arrival to the large rotational lineup, is often cited as a creative force in Club d’Elf. Guitarist David Tronzo joined the group on 2005’s 100 Years Of Flight (KUFALA Recordings), a release that included Mat Maneri. Paul Schultheis joins on synthesizers with Vicente Lebron (Either/Orchestra) and Moussa Traore on percussion.

Like most of the Club d’Elf catalog, Night Sparkles is a live recording, captured on their familiar turf—the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, Mass. Given the personnel lineup, the dynamics on Night Sparkles differ greatly from those on Live at Club Helsinki. The absence of John Medeski’s keyboards and the return of Tronzo’s slide guitar tilt toward strings. The shift is not unusual for Club d’Elf who have at times been horn-heavy, or skewed toward electronics and percussion, or an amalgam of past formations. “End of Firpo Pt 1,” the shortest piece on the album has a blues-rock feel that builds in speed and echo effects, segueing into Pt 2 and taking a turn toward lashing rock. The Moroccan flavored trip-hop, dub-jazz vibe, that Club d’Elf is known for, returns throughout the sequence of “Dance of the Machine Elves,” the title track, and “Ecstatic Cling Pt 1” and Pt 2; it’s a swirling forty-minutes of exotic rhythms, driving percussion and exceptional instrumentation.

It would be easy to say that each Club d’Elf release is, in effect, a different group, a unique experience. That is partially true, but there is an identifiable element, an intangible sound quality, that makes the rotating group of players stand apart. Somehow, in the midst of improvisational self-determination, there is a spirit of cooperation that guides this group down very thought-provoking paths. Night Sparkles shines intriguing light along the route.

Track Listing: End of Firpo Pt 1; End of Firpo Pt 2; Dance of the Machine Elves; Night Sparkles; Ecstatic Cling Pt 1; Ecstatic Cling Pt 2.

Personnel: Mike Rivard: bass; Dean Johnston: acoustic & electronic drums; David Tronzo: slide guitar; Paul Schultheis: Rhodes, Moog, melodica; Vicente Lebron: congas, percussion; Moussa Traore: djembe (3-6); Leo Blanco: melodica (6).

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