Mike Rivard Explains d’Elf’s Deep Rooted Grooves

 In Press

In creating an ultra-modern hybrid of dub trance, Moroccan Berber music electronica, jazz, and trip-hop, Boston-based improvisational ensemble Club d’Elf ventures way out beyond the borders of electric jazz and funk into a groove all its own. Led by bassist and casual conductor Mike “Micro Vard” Rivard (Orchestra Morphine, Either/Orchestra, The Story), the ever-evolving group got its start several years back doing loose, open, “trance jam” jams at clubs in Boston. The collaborations gradually evolved into a serious venture and twice-monthly “workshops” at The Lizard Lounge in Cambridge.

The band tours through the South for the first time this month armed with a slew of ambitious music ideas and a mighty roster of players – most notably perhaps, keyboardist John Medeski of Medeski, Martin & Wood.

“I think there’s something in this group’s music that musicians find really attractive,” says Rivard, 39. “There’s a lot of freedom, so everybody’s free to go out as far as they can possibly go, knowing that there’s someone there keeping the home fires burning. Everybody doesn’t have to keep their heads buried in a chart.”

Mike Rivard, a graduate of the Berklee School of Music, grew up the son of a military family in Minnesota. He started out playing guitar and saxophone as a young kid and ended up on electric bass in the middle school concert band.

“It was the same old story: you got a band with a drummer and three guitar players, so somebody’s gotta play bass,” he remembers. “I really started getting into the bass and the guitar started coming out less. As all bassists know, it is the best instrument! It’s not a particularly glamorous instrument, but when it’s not there, people notice when it’s not there. When you get into the bass, you realize how important it is: it’s part of the rhythm section, and it’s part of the harmonic and melodic structure.”

As a teen, he really dug deep into the rock and roll bass work of Cream’s Jack Bruce, Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones and Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Cassidy. He later expanded to funk and outer-edge bassists Bootsy Collins, Michael Henderson and Tony Levin. As a student at Berklee, he dove into the jazz work of such double bass players as Dave Holland, Charlie Haden and Charles Mingus.

John Medeski of ’90s funk-fusion phenomenon Medeski, Martin & Wood and many other collaborations joins Club D’Elf on this tour and will play his usual array of keyboards: organ, mellotron, Wurlitzer, clavinet. New York scenester Mat Maneri (son of clarinetist Joe Maneri) is known for his recent work with Matthew Shipp, Cecil Taylor and William Parker and regularly plays electric violin and viola in Club d’Elf.

Boston-based DJ Mister Rourke – a collaborator with Soulive, Miracle Orchestra and drummer Billy Martin of MM&W – spins and mixes drumbeats and sounds on turntables.

“We’ve been really fortunate to work with some very musical DJs like DJ Logic and Mister Rourke,” says Rivard. “It’s really like having another instrument in the band… it’s not really like musicians and a DJ. It’s like having another guitarist or keyboardist. The whole band is influenced by DJ culture. I use a sampler on-stage, and the way I approach to playing the bass has been influenced by DJ culture: the remixing and applying a ‘dub’ aesthetic.”

Drummer Eric Kalb – the “new guy” in the group – is best known for his work with Deep Banana Blackout, John Scofield and John Medeski. “Eric is kind of the wild card,” Rivard laughs. “He hasn’t played with the band before this tour. Medeski has worked with him before. We’re all certainly looking forward to it.” For the Atlanta show at the Echo Lounge (Wednesday, March 27) and the Athens show at the Georgia Theatre, hot-shot L.A. guitarist Reeves Gabrels will be joining Club d’Elf on-stage as well.

Known best for his long-running work with David Bowie, Gabrels was one of many guests out of the jazz/improv and rock world who showed up on Club d’Elf’s new live album, As Above: Live At The Lizard Lounge (Grapeshot). Bob Moses, Kenwood Dennard, Alain Mallet, Duke Levine and others contributed as well.

“I think the buzz about it is starting to rise. Until now, we’ve pretty much just been located in the Boston area. We had a residency at a club called the Lizard Lounge – the live album was culled from six shows there. It’s very gratifying to me that someone like Reeves is willing to fly out for a couple of shows. It’s certainly not about the money and getting rich, you know?”

On this tour, the stylistically diverse, current lineup of Club d’Elf will venture out on some seriously-bass-driven grooves and jams, but will also perform some scrupulously composed Middle Eastern-tinged exploratory pieces. Throughout the set, periods of trance-like quietude can suddenly overturn at a moment’s notice and give rise to edgy funk jams. Beware.

“The bass lines in the music are pretty much the melodies, and I feel like those anchor things,” says Rivard. “We do some pretty complex stuff, but I work out the rhythmic concepts from the ground floor with the drummer and everybody else is free to float their stuff on top of it. The way that I view the band is sort of like a DJ or remix producer, looking at a console and each instrument being a different fader on it. If the music has been kind of one texture for a while and needs to change, I have some conducting maneuvers I’ll do on-stage, so that creates a breakdown. It’s all very influenced by the electronic music that’s been coming out for the last 10 years.”

-Ballard Lesemann

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