Walking a Thin Line Between Order and Chaos
Club d’Elf puts musical risks and unpredictability aside to give listeners a wild ride. In 1970, Miles Davis’ album Live Evil took experimental music to new heights.
Today, in the same vein, Club d’Elf embarks on sonic explorations by spontaneously playing material without formally rehearsing it.
Club d’Elf began in 1998 in Cambridge, Mass., at the cozy Lizard Lounge. At the small club, bassist Mike Rivard, who has recorded with Paula Cole and Morphine, established a musical meeting place for live experimentation.
“I wanted something that was loose enough to accommodate people and have it be different every time,” Rivard said. “It’s not total jams. We do have songs. But the idea is to play them differently every night. It’s kind of like a dub remix perspective on it.”
For more than four years, a changing lineup of musicians met at the club for jamming sessions. Notable guests who’ve played with Club d’Elf include DJ Logic, Mark Sandman, Bob Moses and Kenwood Dennard.
“For the Boston shows, there tends to be more of a core group, but every show at the Lizard is a different lineup beyond the core,” Rivard said. “I’m part of a really large musical community in Boston that I can draw.”
Though it started small, the project soon attracted increasingly large audiences who crammed into the venue to listen to the groove-heavy mix of drum ‘n’ bass, trance, electronica, hip-hop, funk and free jazz, as well as traditional Moroccan Berber and Gnawa music and other West African flavors, Rivard said.
After he writes the backbone of the songs, Rivard said, he works out the different rhythm concepts with a drummer. Then, at the shows the other musicians apply their different contributions on top.
“I write charts out,” he said. “Or I send them tapes or CDs, but some come in without ever hearing the music and they just play. The idea is to remix it, so I’m not concerned if a certain section happens live.”
As Club d’Elf embarks on its second domestic tour, an eight-show stint, the group will feature Rivard, John Medeski on keyboards, Brahim Fribgane on “oud” and various Moroccan percussions and vocals, Mat Maneri on electric violin and viola, Mister Rourke on turntables and Eric Kalb on drums. Special guest guitarist Reeves Gabrels will also join the club for the Athens and Atlanta performances.
“We try to walk the tight rope every night, between order and chaos,” Rivard said.
Rivard said his role as musical director allows the members of Club d’ELF to take greater risks because they always have someone who knows where the tune will go next.
“Someone needs to lead and say this is where we are,” he said. “We’re a little more aggressive than [most jam-bands].”