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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Watching Club d’Elf perform at the Lizard Lounge feels like happening upon a group of friends carefully conducting a musical experiment. The players are strongly absorbed in their music, and what you hear suggests a foray into the relationships between instruments and the sounds they produce. Even from the beginning, part of the experience is forgetting that multiple instruments are responsible for the music that surrounds you.
With a constantly rotating cast of characters, Club d’Elf provides its audience with a diverse experience at every exposure. When I saw the group in early November, six members took the stage. Two of d’Elf’s so called “Core Group” were on tap that evening: frontman Mike Rivard (bass and sintir) and Dean Johnston (drums.) The other three musicians are part of the constantly transforming group that makes d’Elf a unique mélange at each show.
Billed as “The Return of Tronzo,” this show featured the reappearance of Dave Tronzo, a slide guitarist with a following of his own. Ned Rothenberg played a variety of instruments, including the clarinet, bass clarinet, saxophone, and shakuhachi, a type of traditional end-blown Japanese flute frequently used as a tool for Zen Buddhist mediation. Rothenberg is listed on Club d’Elf’s website as an “Occasional Conspirator,” a list that includes musicians of every type as well as the occasional poet. Alain Mallet and Jerry Leake are part of d’Elf’s “Rotating Cast”. All in all the list of occasional d’Elf collaborators spans almost every genre of music and includes over 60 members.
Next up is Nov. 29 at the Lizard Lounge. ,Rivard, Johnston, and Tronzo will be there in addition to another core member, Mister Rourke (turntables) Reeves Gabrels (guitar) and Paul Schultheis (keyboard.)
Club d’Elf’s “Core Group” is Rivard, Johnston, Brahim Fribgane, and Rourke. Rivard (who plays bass and composes for d’Elf) attended the Berklee College of Music in the 1980s, where he studied both acoustic and electric bass as well as composition. Rivard founded Club d’Elf in 1998 as a platform with which to “showcase his interest in combining jazz, dub, electronica, world music, rock and hip hop.” Although his academic credentials focus primarily on traditional bass, Rivard also plays the sintir, a three-stringed bass lute played by the Gnawa people of Morocco in North Africa
Rivard often plays a traditional standing bass, and yet his interaction with the instrument is anything but standard. Even from the beginning he combines bow work with picking, and at one point he produces a pair of drumsticks, which he uses to gently tap at the bass’s strings. At another, he slides the drumsticks down the neck of the bass while drumming on it with his other hand. The sound it produces is harsh on occasion, but strangely hypnotic when interwoven with the steady drumbeats and soaring guitar.
Part of Club d’Elf’s appeal is the band’s unique addition of Moroccan instruments and sounds into an already full pot of musical genres. The addition of Fribgane in 1999 in part accounts for this theme, as d’Elf began to include traditional Moroccan folk music into its range soon after he joined. Rivard, a long-time admirer of North African music, quickly obtained a sintir and taught himself to play. Club d’Elf has performed multiple times alongside Hassan Hakmoun, an internationally recognized Gnawa musician.
The Nov. 29 show at 10 p.m. is also a CD release party for the group’s new album, “Fire in the Brain (Live at Berklee).”
This program aired on November 27, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.
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