The Wire (NH)/ 24 October 2007
(Review) Club d'Elf at The Stone Church, Oct. 20
Written by Matt Kanner
In Hunter S. Thompson's â€œFear and Loathing in Las Vegas,â€ the author explains that good mescaline comes on slow. Good music can be like that, too, and Club D'Elf is a case in point. The band members tinker and prod about with their instruments, listening to what they're doing with one ear while absorbing the parallel tinkerings of fellow musicians with the other. It almost sounds like they're still tuning their instruments at first, but little trinkets of cohesion soon begin to emerge, and a few toes unconsciously start tapping in the audience. You don't know exactly when it happens, but after 15 minutes or so, you realize that the music has evolved into an adrenaline rush of rhythmic sound, with pulsing bass and percussion that send tremors through the dance floor.
When the Boston-based band made its monthly appearance at The Stone Church in Newmarket on Saturday, Oct. 20, the band really took its time. The music was scheduled to begin at 10 p.m., but the five musicians were still setting up and testing the soundboard at 10:30. The sparse audience, which suffered from competition with the Boston Red Sox' American League Championship Series, sat patiently at tables, some nursing beers, others just gazing at the stage. It was a distinctly young audience, with several teenagers included in the 18- and-over crowd. They seemed eager for the rare chance to catch seasoned professionals in a small, local venue.
Club D'Elf includes a rotating cast of musicians, usually revolving around bandleader Mike Rivard on bass, Erik Kerr on drums and Brahim Fribqane on oud. Since its inception in 1998, the band has utilized an impressive assembly of sidemen, including Medeski, Martin and Wood keyboardist John Medeski, Soulive saxophonist Sam Kininger, DJ Logic and a couple of dozen others. On Saturday, Rivard's multiple basses were accompanied by drums, saxophone, turntables and slide guitar.
It was Newmarket's own Dave Tronzo, who only a few weeks ago opened for jazz legend John Scofield at The Church, on slide guitar. Seated on a stool and using a typically esoteric assortment of slides, Tronzo playfully exchanged musical quips with Rivard, creating an increasingly elaborate cat's cradle of sound.
Rivard came equipped with an arsenal of bass instruments, including an upright acoustic bass, two electric bass guitars and a three- string Moroccan bass called a sintir. The latter is an unusual looking instrument, with a body made from a hollowed log covered with camel skin, and a neck made from a stick.
A medley of sounds spit from the turntables, including samples of early radio broadcasts of the Red Soxâ€”the team that was in no small part responsible for leaving more than half of The Stone Church vacant on a Saturday night. The long, introductory improvisation gradually took shape, and Rivard eventually picked up the pace on one of his electric basses, spurring the drummer to follow suit.
Although individual instrumentalists occasionally stepped into the spotlight, the jazz-funk-ambient music consisted largely of simultaneous and seemingly unending improvisation by all five musicians. Depending on where you fixed your attention, you could focus on a scorching saxophone solo, multifarious bass lines or coiling guitar licks.
Club D'Elf released its first and only studio album, â€œNow I Understand,â€ just over a year ago, but a number of live discs are available, including several at Boston's Lizard Lounge, where D'Elf long held a weekly residency. Club D'Elf will not make it to The Stone Church next month, but the band will return for monthly shows in December. Check The Stone Church schedule at www.thestonechurch.com for updates. For more on D'Elf, visit www.clubdelf.com.