Club d’Elf | 06.06.09 | Boston

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By: Tim O’Keefe

Club d’Elf :: 06.06.09 :: Paradise Rock Club :: Boston, CA

Club d’Elf
Sonorous notes emit from the stage at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club. Its source, a Moroccan sintir, lies in the hands of Club d’Elf‘s bandleader, Mike Rivard. Animal skins stretch across the oblong-shaped, hollow cavity of this bass-like instrument. The neck, somewhat resembling a wooden stick, juts from the body and contains three stings. The sintir is not often heard in Western music, but that’s nothing unusual for this band. Club d’Elf traverses musical styles, creating an amalgamation of sounds and musical textures.

This night Club d’Elf opens with “Sand,” a tribute to Mark Sandman of the band Morphine, and the first song Rivard wrote for the sintir. The music is infused with a driving pulse, emphasizing the first beat of each measure. Dressed in flowing, black dress with shimmering beads and gold tassels, Shakti Rowan dances to the performance. Her movements fuse traditional Moroccan and belly dancing with elements of modern routines. For a brief moment, Rowan locks her steps with the first percussive beat to every measure drummer Erik Kerr plays. Rivard calls for a tempo change. Lead by keyboardist Alain Mallet, the band slowly morphs into funkier musical segments, displaying similarities to the electric sounds of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. Playing slide guitar, Dave Tronzo begins to solo. With the guitar crying, the pace quickens, pushing the music forward. Then, Tronzo falls back, slowing the tempo, playing idle slides, laced with delay and wah-wah effects.

Club d’Elf is a musical collective and live performances draw from a wide array of Boston area musicians. “The sound of the band is always changing depending on who is in it,” Rivard explains. “Improvisation is a large part of what we do. The music is structured with a loose theme and there is room for improvisation, but it’s not an open jam. It calls for a musician who is a good listener as well as someone who can take charge when the time is right.”

The core members of the band – Rivard (bass), Brahim Fribgane (oud, voice, percussion), Mister Rourke (turntables) and Dean Johnston or Eric Kerr (drums) – have recently been in the recording studio. Several of the songs contain Moroccan influences. Tonight’s 60-minute performance, comprising three songs, showcases the material, which is scheduled for a September 2009 release.

Mike Rivard & Mister Rourke – Club d’Elf
Rivard switches to a Lakland semi-hollow electric bass and then invites percussionist Lotfi Tiken to the stage. The band begins the second piece, “Berber Song,” with Tiken enticing the audience to clap, emphasizing the first, third and fourth beats of each measure. Playing a funk groove, Mallet’s keyboard lays groundwork for musical explorations. Tiken begins playing metallic, figure-eight-shaped castanets. Accompanied by this instrument’s clacking rhythm, he begins singing in Arabic. After several minutes, the guitar, keyboard and bass triple on the same melody line, returning the emphasis to the first, third and fourth beats of the music. Tiken’s vocals end; the melody slows. He enthusiastically claps a rhythm, returning the audience’s participation. Building from this sound, the band explores tempos and phrasing, slowly returning back to the main melody.

“Typically what happens in Moroccan music is it starts in a slow tempo and gradually speeds up,” Rivard explains. This concept was interwoven throughout the set, as tempos changed and layers of sound were constructed.

“Instar” is the closing segment. Rivard’s repetitive, melodic bass line anchors a moderate tempo, accompanied by drum and keyboard. Tronzo’s guitar slashes out at the layers of sound. Picking with his fingers and thumb, Tronzo bends notes under a metallic slide, causing sounds to soar. Shakti Rowan returns to the stage with interpretive dance. The music reaches a fiery climax under molten layers of keyboard phrasings, melodic lines, and percussive sounds. As Tronzo contributes eerie slides, Kerr repeatedly strikes mallets against cymbals, bringing the piece to an abrupt close.

“Thank you very much,” Rivard says to the audience. “We’re Club d’Elf. We really enjoyed playing for you tonight.”

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