WoMag (Worcester Magazine)
December 4 , 2001
Almost every time Club d’Elf performs, the lineup of the musicians changes. For leader and bassist Mike Rivard, the rotating lineup is a necessity. “I’d love to have a constant group,” says Rivard, “but the type of players I like to play with all have their own groups that take up a lot of their time. So it’s nice to have a semi-regular group of musicians to draw from.”
Club d’Elf’s unique mix of jazz, electronica, dub, trance and world music came about when Rivard landed an every-other-Thursday gig at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge four years ago. Dozens of special guests have come through since, ranging from keyboardist John Medeski to microtonal reed pioneer Joe Maneri to cable public access poet Dr. Nancy Mroczek. They are just a few of the scores of musicians featured on As Above (Grapeshot / Live Archive Records), a two-CD set of live recordings released earlier this year.
In Worcester, Club d’Elf will be made up of a typically stellar group of all-stars. In addition to Rivard and regular drummer Erik Kerr, the group will include Duke Levine on guitar, Alain Mallet on keyboards, DJ Mr. Rourke on turntables, and special guest Adam Deitch on drums.
Levine is the Worcester-bred guitar giant usually found these days with Mary Chapin Carpenter. He’s played with Rivard since the two were part of The Story in the early ’90s. But those used to hearing Levine play folk/rock will find he has another, far more experimental side, as captured by his work on As Above.
Mallet plays keyboards with everyone from Paul Simon to Cuban jazz legend Paquito D’Rivera. And DJ Mr. Rourke, who’ll be playing his first show with Club d’Elf, used to be in Boston funk favorites Fat Bag.
“Working with DJs is like having another instrument in the band,” notes Rivard. “We’ve been lucky to work with DJs who are very musical.”
While Rivard writes the outlines of Club d’Elf’s music, the tunes are structured to allow the musicians substantial room to improvise.
“My intent is to get the band on any particular night to compose on the spot,” he says. “The compositions I bring are just a springboard, and hopefully the unexpected will come from them. I think of the group as remixing the tunes every night.”
The idea of a live band remixing itself spontaneously meshes with Rivard’s interest in DJ culture. A master of both electric and upright bass, Rivard uses loops to sample his own playing live. Rivard and Kerry’s rhythms are often reflective of minimalist dub or trance, with lines dropping out and coming back.
“I love to leave out a note or extract a silence,” Rivard says. “I imagine there is some meta-dub producer who is taking away one of our limbs, and there goes the snare drum or the cymbal.”
When Club d’Elf draws on the music of India or Morocco, it doesn’t do so casually. Rivard and frequent Club d’Elf member Jerry Leake are members of Natraj, who have studied the intricate science of Indian music extensively. And Club d’Elf’s trance rhythms have been deeply influenced by performing with Moroccan gnawa musicians, who play the music of the indigenous Berber people.
“Merging traditional musical concepts with more of a modern musical aesthetic just seems natural to me,” says Rivard.