STORMY MONDAYS: CLUB D'ELF WITH JOHN MEDESKI, by Dan Alford. Published February 4, 2013
One of the best kept secrets in improv music is hidden in Boston: the huge rotating cast of characters performing under the guidance of bassist Mike Rivard, the collective known as Club d'Elf. The music is earthy, rhythmic, hypnotic, spacey, groovy, funkydubnasty, but while various formations of drummers, keyboard players, guitarists, horn players, djs, and if you're lucky, Oud player Brahim Fribgane, make short tours every now and again, for the most part, that music is only produced at The Lizard Lounge in Cambridge. Luckily, Rivard is generous with his ever-evolving experiment, which will celebrate its 15th anniversary later this year, as Club d'Elf is extremely well represented on archive.org, with hundreds of shows available for streaming and downloading, the vast majority of which are stellar recordings from on-stage microphones.
Going back to the earliest days, one of d'Elf's best and most noteworthy collaborators, one for whom the band has always been a excellent and influential outlet, is John Medeski. In fact, to truly known Medeski's style and sound and approach, you really need to understand the music he produces with the band. The long-form, open-ended material gives him room to open up, but also room to sit back for long stretches comping and adding background effects, playing the role of the best sideman around. There's great patience and texture in his work with d'Elf, as much as there are explosive, funky, hold onto your hat throw-downs.
With all that in mind, this week we have the opening 45 minutes of a show at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC from December of 2011. The setlist, Scorpion > Sand (for Mark) > Instar, is pretty classic for the band, but the performance is especially fluid and mesmerizing. LPR is a artier venue with jazz, singer-songwriters and even chamber music often booked there, so it has a nice baby grand on stage. Medeski plays wonderfully on it during the opening track – he's almost always electrified when playing with the group. He also has a phenomenal organ solo half way through Sand. The rest of the show turns deeply toward North African sounds thereafter with a host of guests, but what begins the show is prime cut Club d'Elf. As always, enjoy.