By: Josh Potter
It's generally accepted that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but when a CD comes wrapped in smokable cellophane, the cover might be a good place to start. Inside, the Boston-based collective's seventh release, Perhapsody Live 10.12.06, captures the live energy that they've brought to the stage of the Lizard Lounge almost every other week since their inception in '98. The blend of jazz, prog-rock, drum 'n' bass and Moroccan folk makes one wish that catchall labels like "acid-jazz" hadn't been extinguished decades ago. In this particular instance, the packaging might just be a proper indication of what's to come.
Over two discs worth of aqueous, inspired grooves, the latest Club d'Elf lineup finds keyboardist John Medeski (MMW), guitarists Dave Tronzo (Sex Mob) and Duke Levine (Shawn Colvin), turntablist Mister Rourke and horn players Tom Hall and Tom Halter (Either/Orchestra) wound around the core rhythm section of drummer Erik Kerr and bassist- sintir player Mike Rivard. Despite its collaborative scaffolding, Club d'Elf orbits this rhythmic nucleus like a seasoned, monogamous outfit. Exceedingly bass-centric, it is Rivard who anchors the proceedings and directs each permutation.
The result is deep, organic electronica, more primal-trance than '90s rave with a trip-hop beat stemming from sax and turntables that can skip at a moment's notice into eerie gamelan meditations before crescendoing into a drum 'n' bass blow-out, complete with 8-bit bleeps and hovering Wurlitzer. Tracks like "Life of the Mind" utilize complex rhythmic figures as platforms for ecstatic improvisation, especially from Medeski, whose one-two punch of obtuse atmospherics and angular melodic lines are at their most characteristic. While "Berber Song" nods to Rivard's roots in Moroccan folk music, the proggy "Goblin Garden" pays homage to Italian horror director Dario Argento.
Though the exclusive product of live improvisation, a studio quality often emerges, especially from Mister Rourke's sample board. Phasing drum samples compliment Kerr's live beats, and slices of sci-fi dialogue dart in-and-out of dark organ passages. Particularly apropos are the fragments of psychedelic guru Terrence McKenna 's testimony on what he calls "elf music," buried in the two-part "Salvia" sequence.
At once architectural and fluid, Perhapsody was no doubt properly handled before the shrink-wrap went on. Lucky for us, that responsibility carries over to when the wrapper comes off.
JamBase | Cambridge
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