Soundboard Magazine issue #5 May/June 1998 Sunday, March 24, 1998 Lizard Lounge, Cambridge, MA (By George Drake)
You knew it was a special evening as you walked down the stairs, and entered the main basement-cum-living room area of the Lizard Lounge, a club tucked away underneath the Cambridge Common restaurant in Cambridge Mass. Around for less than two years, the space has already become a landmark on the surging groove scene here.
Club d’Elf, a loose collection of local dub, trance and groove musicians, including members of Morphine, and the Hypnosonics, was the featured act. Tonight the ensemble featureda special guest: John Medeski of Medeski Martin and Wood fame.
The instruments, mic stands and chairs were arranged in a small circle, with a stand-up and electric bass in the center. More effects pedals than you might see in the average music store dotted the faux Oriental rug which added to the homey ambience. Indeed, the intimate surroundings were such that simply crossing your legs might mean knocking over an instrument. One by one the musicians took the “stage” and when what first appeared to be a warm up/soundcheck/noodling session quickly became the first “groove” of the night, the informality of it all quickly became apparent. First two, then five, then eight musicians joined the frayâ€¦Bassist/ringleader Mike Rivard slapped, plucked, bowed and even played his upright like a xylophone, all the while nodding cues for people to solo. Guitarist Duke Levine and DJ Logic added fills, samples or riffs as they saw fit, with Rivard controlling the tempo. The group caught fire on “Hip Hop Tabla,” with Medeski’s swirling, anxious organ and Rivard’s expert yet undermiced bass leading the way. With formal song structure set aside, the ‘automatic pilot’ that guides top musicians took over. Actually, you can thank the Berklee School of Music for that, in part, as a number of the players were current or former students. The set ended with the first vocal stint of the night as two female singers added dreamy vocals to a song about “boys and their toys,” while a short setbreak was highlighted by an informal birthday party (complete with cake) for one of the players.
Set two began with a slightly different look, as Jay Hilt took over drumming duties from Eric Kerr for the opening number. Hilt’s frantic, thumb-heavy style added simply another layer to the mosaic, but Kerr’s steady jazz-infected backbeat was more better suited to the overall sound. Tom Halter on flugelhorn and trumpet brought an air of stateliness to the proceedings, though we would have like to have seen the dual horn section add more to the mix. DJ Logic’s well-timed samples of everything from famous statesmen to musicians to movies added poignant, even comical highlights to the proceedings. While his inclusion may have seemed out-of-place at first, he quickly proved his [sic] skills in the turntable were equal to those of any of his traditional musician counterparts.
The midnight hour passed and musicians came and left the circle. Electric violins, synthesizers, more horns, percussion, you name it; it all got thrown into the mix, over a dozen cooks mixing the pot at times. By now people lined the stairs, ducking their heads to get a better view of this ensemble, with the low ceilings and subterranean feel adding to the ’60s coffeehouse vibe. We left feeling almost honored to be a part of such an incredible evening of deftly-played, intellectually-challenging music. And while Club d’Elf clearly benefited from having a heavyweight like John Medeski on board, without him the communal spirit of the ensemble still works, serving as its own tribute to how music ought to be played. For groove lovers, Club d’Elf is not to be missed.