Boston's CLUB d'ELF to Release Long-Awaited Studio Debut NOW I UNDERSTAND on Accurate Records
All-star collective includes Mike Rivard, John Medeski, Billy Martin, DJ Logic, Reeves Gabrels, Mat Maneri, Duke Levine and many more
The sound of the future is here."
- Boston Magazine's Best Of Boston"
Club d'Elf combines the roaring avant-funk of electric-era Miles with the legato drift of the Grateful Dead...heady music that doesn't neglect the tail."
- Time Out New York
Brooklyn, NY - Amid digital static and tape flicker an ominous voice emerges to declare: The world is under attack at this very moment by the most powerful forces man has ever scene: creatures from space, monsters from the depths of the earth and criminals operating right within our cities. They must be destroyed before they destroy the world. Operation Lifesaver is in effect as of right now." It's a clear signal that something transformative is waiting in the wings. And indeed, the listener's natural notions of sound and aural equilibrium are about to be pushed beyond any previously imagined horizons. It's precisely the kind of sonic journey that comprises the debut studio album by the Boston-based collective, Club d'Elf, entitled, Now I Understand, on Accurate Records. Eight years in the making, it's a recording of unlimited depth, intrigue and exploration. But more than merely a musical experiment, human warmth and spirituality are what ultimately prevail. Club d'Elf have created a work of inspiration completely unto itself.
Club d'Elf is the brainchild of bassist Mike Rivard, one of the most respected musicians on the Boston music scene, having played with a startling variety of artists, including The Either/Orchestra, Natraj (Indo-jazz), Hypnosonics (with members of Morphine), The Story, Aimee Mann and Paula Cole to name but a few. In 1998, Rivard seized the opportunity to play a residency at Cambridge's ultra-hip Lizard Lounge by creating a rhythm section-oriented band with a floating cast of guitar, keyboard and horn players. Playing his tunes, which draw on influences ranging from Miles Davis and The Meters to electronica and Moroccan music, Rivard created a distinctly personal style from the bottom up, a sound which varies depending on the sidemen, but is always fascinatingly broad and a mile deep.
Club d'Elf's existence as an ever-changing live band made it logical that its first seven CDs were live albums. However, d'Elf's first studio recording reflects another side of leader Mike Rivard's musical personality. Now I Understand takes fearless improvisations recorded live in the studio" and weaves them into tight, layered compositions, perfectly paced and meticulously detailed. Primarily occupied with creating virtually a new edition of the band for every show (which would amount to dozens of personnel combinations throughout the collective's history), it would take Rivard years to construct the studio tracks thereby documenting the composer/bandleader/ensemble's journey through time. Collaborators include d'Elf live show regulars John Medeski on Hammond organ, Wurlitzer piano, Mellotron and analog synthesizer, Billy Martin on drums, Mat Maneri on viola, Dave Tronzo, Reeves Gabrels, Duke Levine, Gerry Leonard (aka Spooky Ghost) on guitar, Alain Mallet on keyboards and DJ Logic on turntables. The core of the band, its rhythm section, remains consistent: Rivard on bass and a Moroccan three-stringed bass lute called the sintir, Brahim Fribgane on oud, dumbek and percussion, Mister Rourke on turntables and Erik Kerr on drums.
The crux of what we do live is spontaneous and improvised, so in taking the band into the studio I wanted to retain that element, while at the same time bringing in a level of arrangement and attention to detail that would reward multiple listenings," states Rivard. In the same way that I returned time and again to favorite albums like Pink Floyd's Animals, Talking Head's Remain In Light, DJ Shadow's Endtroducing or something by XTC or Radiohead. I hoped to capture the energy and indefinable spiritual thing that happens when we play live, but in a tighter, more concise context, like free- funk produced by someone such as Brian Wilson or Jon Brion or Brian Eno."
As Now I Understand unfolds, Club d'Elf consistently reveal themselves to be firmly rooted in trance music, both contemporary electronic forms and more traditional approaches like Moroccan Berba, Gnawa and Sufi music. The opening cut, Bass Beat Box," has a distinct drum & bass vibe, but the warm drum tones and natural swing to the beat patterns make clear that these are not computer generated loops, but real players laying down a ferocious groove. Hungary Ghosts" weaves together multiple rhythmic elements into a virtual tapestry of sound punctuated by Medeski's Wurlitzer, Dave Tronzo's razor sharp slide guitar and DJ Logic's conversational turntable scratchings. By the time track four, Quilty," begins with the simply stated pronouncement, some thoughts have a certain sound," Club d'Elf hopes the listener will have achieved something like an altered state. Deeply layered, dream-like, repetitive rhythms created by tablas, trap kits and turntables give way to Brahim Fribgane on oud. Vishnu Dub" further perpetuates this elevation.
In Quantum Mechanics there is a theorem that states that once two molecules come into contact they continue to influence each other, even if they travel to opposite ends of the universe. I experienced that firsthand in the making of this record," recounts Rivard. Strange and inexplicable synchronicities would occur, such as two musicians who hadn't been in the room together while recording would answer each other, or leave holes in phrases that would perfectly allow for another person's phrase to speak. Weird and uncanny almost."
At this point the listener encounters something both down to earth and ethereal: the voice of Jenifer Jackson, singing an obscure '60s number, A Toy for a Boy," brought to Rivard's attention on a mix tape by Tom Ardolino of NRBQ. Originally recorded by the Ray Charles Singers (no - not that Ray Charles, but an easy-listening schlockmeister whose career was either jump-started or prematurely ended by his unfortunate name), Jackson's delivery is both sultry and ironic, riding a Portishead-like trip-hop feel.
The title track, Now I Understand" begs the repeated question, are you ready to die?" The centripetal force of Mat Maneri's electric viola slowly builds into a rock-steady, circular groove, while Reeves Gabrels' slashing guitar skronks and squeals eerily amongst the chaos. Rounding out the recording, Club d'Elf offer the spoken word vignette, And The Shadow Saw the Gods," containing samples from Michael Brownstein's Monologue From the Top." They devise a swirling, 21st century space blues entitled Wet Bones," while Vision of Kali" fuses a droning Eastern raga-like meditation, featuring Rivard on tamboura, with spiraling electronic colorings that form a meeting ground for the ancient and modern.
In total, the whole process of making this CD spanned almost 8 years. It became a sort of journey for me, encompassing experiences both personal, such as going through a divorce and the deaths of loved ones, and universal, such as Columbine, 9/11 and Katrina," concludes Rivard. I remember driving while listening to reports of Columbine on the radio. Later that night while recording I felt such a level of sadness and mourning, which I can still hear in the bass tracks from that session. Though we don't really speak of such things, after 9/11 especially, I think there was a tacit understanding that what we were doing in the band was perhaps part of some larger global effort at cooperation and mutual love and respect with Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Pagans and what have you playing together and putting aside cultural and religious differences in service of 'The Music.' To some extent I think that comes across on this record."