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Published: 2005/03/05
by Brian Gearing

Gravity All Nonsense Now – Club d’Elf

Kufala Recordings

There aren't many true jazz artists out there pushing the envelope. The genre has been stretched so far and filled so full that it's hard to try anything new without wandering into abstract atonality, that place where the very idea of "music" starts to become irrelevant. More of a collective than a band, Club d'Elf makes a career out of tip-toeing across that super-stretched fabric that marks the boundary where jazz ends and noise begins. Their most recent, Gravity All Nonsense Now, stays mostly on the inside of the balloon, letting drummer Erik Kerr and bassist Mike Rivard hold the patchwork together while guests David "Fuze" Fiuczynski and Dave Tronzo on guitars and Mister Rourke on turntables pick at the seams. An almost full show recorded at Boston’s Lizard Lounge on May 8th, 2003, the double disc set is a noise-jazz afficionado’s wet dream, and a bop purist’s messy, sticky nightmare.

In some ways, the record is more roots than jazz itself, focusing more on the primitive cornerstone of rhythm than the more refined and often confining flipside of melody. The barely audible feedback ambience of "Alap" provides a blank, in-the-beginning mythology on which the dissonant percussion can paint savages banging on the walls of their caves. Kerr tries to catch the antibeat beneath Fuze's and Tronzo's near-Eastern atmospherics, but it's Rivard's bass that eventually shapes the loose theme of "Scorpionic" and points the ensemble through the prehistoric chaos. Fuze finds a dispensable pre-funk melody that rises and falls until "Quilty" pulls the band back into a jazzy tune. Fuze injects delicate riffs and accents over the slow, funk groove as the song bounces playfully along. A restive, soft balladry briefly sheds its jazzy pretensions until Mister Rourke's stomping behemoth steers the group into hazy memories of dance clubs and breakbeats.

Throughout the disc, the quintet combines every disparate American music into some semblance of the one that spawned most of them. The guitarists and turntablist stand atop the groovy, minimalist foundation of "Bass Beatbox" to explore their own depths before the party starts on "Gravity All Nonsense Now Pt. 1" and "Dr. Smile." Fuze and Tronzo's guitars provide a quiet peace rather than the catalyst for chaos on the disc one closer, "Salvia Pt. 1," and the simple, head-bobbing groove comes as a bit of a surprise after the complete abandon of the rest of the disc.

Disc two opens with "Salvia Pt. 2," whose big, stomping beat and sludge-rock bass line provide an open field for free jazz guitar runs. Mister Rourke, who on most of the album plays the role of backround wax percussionist, brings a new idea to the table, chopping up flute morsels with the serrated edge of the needle on vinyl. When Tronzo settles on a deep funk wank, the song's bounce is suddenly unmistakable, like all those random notes were just smaller parts of a larger beat of some quantum chaos. The quiet, face-to-the-starry-sky meditation of "Big Light in the Sky" closes the first set with bass-effected UFO fantasies and the landing of Parliament's Mothership, which refuses to be stopped by even the most off-key, arrhythmic guitar wanderings.

"The Tingler" and "Nam-Shub Pt. 1" both explore jazz's illegitimate, urban grandsons, hinting at electronica and hip-hop with the sampled beats and jazz-funk house of the former and Rivard's spring-loaded bass harmonics on the latter. A fire theme pervades the final third of the disc. The grungey bass line of "Fire in the Brain" gives Tronzo and Fuze enough rope to explore without wandering outside the lines drawn by Kerr and Rivard, and they all descend together into exhausted noise play before digging a hole through the fabric of "Fire Tangent." The final "Fire in the Brain Reprise" is fast-paced bop with rolls and solos in texture rather than melody. Rourke and Rivard team up for one final spooky death march while Tronzo and Fuze laugh in the face of its repetitive darkness until the whole group fades into an unspectacular ending punctuated by Rourke's Jerry Springer "Final Thoughts" sample.

Purists' final thoughts might include outrage, and I tend to agree, at least in theory. This isn't jazz, at least by Webster's definition, but nothing good was ever accomplished by playing by the rules. Whereas most of the bland, unoffending jazz being produced today fits the definition but not the spirit, Club d'Elf earns the moniker by vision alone. Much like noise-jazz pioneers Medeski, Martin & Wood, the Boston collective stands on the shoulders of giants, threatening to break their backs by continually jumping to reach higher. Unlike those contemporary artists who are content to stand still and reach only with their arms, however, Club d'Elf is sure to attain the unreachable when their foundations eventually explode from the strain.

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