Musically Speaking: Review of Night Sparkles – Mel Minter

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Musically Speaking: review of Night Sparkles
By Mel Minter
April, 2019

Accurately self-described as a “Moroccan-dosed dub-jazz collective,” Club d’Elf is centered on a core that includes leader Mike Rivard (sintir, a three-string bass banjo used by the Gnawa people; bass) and Dean Johnston (acoustic and electronic drums). Surrounding this core is a diverse roster of collaborators and guest artists that ranges from John Medeski to Brahim Fribgane, Hassan Hakmoun to Duke Levine. As a result, no two performances are the same, and listeners can expect anything and everything. On Night Sparkles, recorded live at the band’s home base, the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, Mass., the core duo are joined by David Tronzo (slide guitar), Paul Schultheis (Rhodes, Moog, melodica), Vicente Lebron (congas, percussion), and Leo Blanco (melodica on one track). Master djembe drummer Moussa Traore, who had never heard the band, was in the audience, and he, too, was invited to join the group on two of the six tracks. On each track, Rivard and Johnston set up a rhythmic cell that repeats with subtle alterations in meter and groove, flowing like a river and inducing a trancelike state. Floating down this river are the collaborators, who take turns commenting on what they see on the riverbank in riveting solos and imaginative conversations. Night Sparkles especially features the various drummers, but everybody makes signal contributions over the deep grooves. Spacey, intense, highly textured, and mesmeric, Club d’Elf’s latest presents a cinematic excursion into parts previously unknown and never to be revisited. For a completely different Club d’Elf experience, check out Live at Club Helsinki, reviewed here. Also, for those of you at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, you can catch the band at Howlin’ Wolf on April 29, with John Medeski (keys), Skerik (sax), Van Martin (guitar), and the inimitable Mister Rourke (turntables) joining Rivard and Johnston.

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