April 21, 2011 The Improper Bostonian Review of Electric Moroccoland/So Below By Paul Robicheau

 In Press

Club d'elf doesn't run by celebrity, but it doesn't hurt that bassist Mike Rivard, leader of that jazz/world/dub/electronic collective, enlists talented players with broad notoriety.

The presence of guest keyboardist John Medeski certainly boosts the buzz for tomorrow's two-show Lizard Lounge celebration for the local group's expansive new double disc Electric Moroccoland/So Below, recorded across 11 years with two dozen musicians.

But it's the diverse, adventurous sound of the collective lineup that makes each d'elf show or CD click. In addition to Medeski, Friday's CD release party also sports Moroccan oud/percussion ace Brahim Fribgane, otherworldly slide guitarist Dave Tronzo and turntable manipulator Mister Rourke, lacing the composed grooves of Rivard and drummer Dean Johnson. Cuban trumpeter Yaure Muniz (Buena Vista Social Club), saxophonist Tom Hall, keyboardists Alain Mallet (Paul Simon, the Story) and Paul Schultheis, and percussionist Jerry Leake should also sit in.

All save Muniz grace the double studio CD, along with guitarists Duke Levine, Reeves Gabrels, Gerry Leonard and Randy Roos, violist Mat Maneri and late sax master Joe Maneri, John Brown’s Body drummer Tommy Benedetti and original d'elf timekeeper Erik Kerr.

Totaling 150 minutes, the two discs sound surprisingly unified for such an ambitious project. Electric Moroccoland reflects Rivard's fascination with that country's Gnawa trance music, down to his use of the three-string bass lute called a sintir. The CD's mix of Moroccan rhythms and Western textures hits some compelling stretches. What could have been a gimmick, a cross-cultural take on Cream's “Sunshine of Your Love” sung in Arabic by Moroccan star Hassan Hakmoun, proves a subtle tour-de-force.

So Below proves more consistently transcendent, drawing more naturally on the Club d'elf cauldron of modern textures and groove with a continued Moroccan hint. The disc spins d'elf standards like the title track and “Salvia” into big-band arrangements that evoke Miles Davis's fiery '70s jazz-funk workouts. The late Mark Sandman (who turned Rivard on to Moroccan music) even appears on two tracks, while singer-guitarist David Johnston adds blues to the heady brew.

If you can't get tickets for tomorrow's big shindig, d'elf also plays Saturday (sans Medeski) at the Stone Church in Newmarket, N.H., returns to the cozy confines of Lizard May 6 and 20, and performs a free 4:45 p.m. set at Jamaica Plain's Wake Up the Earth Fest in Southwest Corridor Park May 7. The lineups of musicians rotate but the psychedelic spirit will remain.

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