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Published: 2004/12/01
by Brad Farberman

100 Years of Flight – Club d’Elf Live, 3/28/02, Athens, GA – Club d’Elf

Kufala Recordings 0096

Kufala Recordings 0068

Improvisation is all about faith (though not in the religious sense… although it is that, too). In other words, there are no special precautions one can take to ensure that magic comes out of a jam — all you can do is be positive, and believe that the stars will align.

And, if that's true, bassist Mike Rivard has a lot of faith. His six year-old "band," a Boston-based jam session dubbed "Club d'Elf," relies on improvisation as its primary mode of expression. At gigs, they'll run through any number of Rivard's first-rate compositions, but these are just jumping off points. For Magic. Which, again, cannot be conjured up per se. But it can be coaxed along, and one way to keep things "coaxed" is by rotating participants. By choice or by fate, Berklee grad Rivard is d'Elf's only permanent member. Drummer Eric Kerr and percussionist Brahim Fribgane are almost always there, but that's subject to change as well. So who's down with Club d'Elf? John Medeski spends a lot of time at the clubhouse. So does avant-violinist Mat Maneri, and DJ Mister Rourke. You can find kit-king Adam Deitch (John Scofield Band, Lettuce) there from time to time and Marc Ribot dropped by earlier this year just to say "what up." And what do they sound like? It's pretty epic. Rivard and his conspirators have developed a genre unto themselves, let's call it "free funk." The music gets way out there, often threatening to spiral out of control, but there's usually a nasty groove beneath it all, roping in the spirits. Spirits like slide guitarist Dave Tronzo (Lounge Lizards, Spanish Fly). "I just want everybody to check out what Dave has here," says Rivard on d'Elf's new release, 100 Years of Flight, the two disc concert recording, out now on Kufala, from Cambridge, Massachusetts’ Lizard Lounge, took place on December 18, 2003, the 100-year anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight. "He has some corks in the strings of his guitar. He has his guitar prepared in a very special way for all you people."

And that idea, in itself, kind of sums up d'Elf's philosophy. Their guitarist, on that particular night, was playing with corks stuck between his strings, and that was cause for celebration, not head-scratching. Club d'Elf is a supportive co-op of musicians who are willing to try new things, go new places, and make great music. And they might play with strange objects stuck in the crevices of their instruments.

But back to Tronzo. His playing, which ranges from freaky to beautiful (and everywhere in between), is beyond fluid, and commands your full attention (remember to breathe when you're listening to him solo). And his interplay with Rivard, Kerr and the forward-thinking Maneri (loud and distorted, his violin often sounds like anything but) is arresting. On this night, a tiny Club made a tiny club shake with haunting, introspective themes and adventurous improvisations (check out Rivard's "Fire In The Brain," a nearly 20-minute odyssey through strange and funky sonic territory; other highlights include the group improv "Al Aita" and the Steve Bernstein composition "Cave Man").

And, if you need more d'Elf (which, undoubtedly, you will), you might be inclined to check out another release from the vault, "Live, 3/28/02 Athens, GA" (also on Kufala). This time out, Rivard's little jam session made it all the way down south, as a septet. On board were Maneri, Mr. Medeski, Mister Rourke, Fribgane, drummer Eric Kalb (Deep Banana Blackout!) and six-stringer Reeves Gabrels (he did time with Bowie).

And it's nothing like the quartet date from '03. With Medeski, Kalb and Rourke on stage, d'Elf get their groove on; Athens was a funky place to be that night, and don't you forget it.

Rivard's "Uncle Skulky" is infectious in all its hip-hop glory, and "Left Hand Of Clyde" could have been a P-Funk song (if P-Funk were seven white guys from Boston and NYC). Additionally, the bonus track ("Shadow's Shift," by the Maneri/Rivard songwriting team), a cut from earlier that week, is the dopest thing ever (think Head Hunters).

And the other dopest thing ever is Club d'Elf. Don't pass up a chance to see these guys, or to grab these records from the good folks over at Kufala. You won't be sorry (if you like really good music).

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