Club d’Elf – Live at Club Helsinki [TrackList follows] – Face Pelt 5003 (2-CDs) 62:47, 63:52 [1/10/17] ****:
A jazz, Middle Eastern, jam band exhibition.
(John Medeski – Hammond B3 organ, electric piano, clavinet, mellotron, melodica; Duke Levine – guitar; Mister Rourke – DJ; Mike Rivard – sintir, bass kalimba, bass; Brahim Fribgane – oud, voice, percussion; Dean Johnston – drums; Thomas Workman – flute, (CD 2, tracks 1 and 2))
There is an extensive range of material from Club d’Elf on the group’s double-disc live album, Live at Club Helsinki. Formed in 1998, Club d’Elf utilizes many musical styles, including jazz, Moroccan Gnawa, hip hop, psychedelia, electronica, avant-garde and dub. The ever-evolving assemblage is led by bassist Mike Rivard and drummer Dean Johnston, with musical associates flowing in and out for live gigs and recording dates. Guitars, Fender Rhodes, turntables, laptops, horns, Indian percussion and other types of instruments have been employed. This outing—taped in mid-November 2012 at the Hudson, NY club where Club d’Elf have done shows since 2001—comprises Rivard on sintir (a three-stringed, skin-covered bass plucked like a lute), kalimba and bass; Johnston on drums; special guest John Medeski (of Medeski, Martin and Wood) on several keyboards; guitarist Duke Levine (his credits include Shawn Colvin, Peter Wolf, Lucy Kaplansky, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and the J Geils Band); Brahim Fribgane on oud, voice and percussion; DJ Mister Rourke (samples, turntables, et al); and Thomas Workman on flute.
The twelve-track set list (six tunes per CD) has new improvisations as well as older Club d’Elf music. The Moroccan influence is strong throughout, although the first disc focuses primarily on lots of improvisation with frequent reggae dub-style rhythms. CD one commences with a 32-minute, unified medley of “Mogador,” “Africa” and “The Booloolu.” “Mogador” (titled after a city in western Morocco) is an animated ride with Medeski shining on acoustic piano as the other group members layer up a groove-laden foundation peppered by electronics, sampled voices, distorted guitar and Middle Eastern tones. The ensemble then segues into a noteworthy interpretation of “Africa,” a Jamaican ska hit by the Gaylads, where the groove shifts and modifies in a sinuous but never forced mode: during “Africa,” Levine displays his reggae-tinted guitar skills and Medeski switches to soulful electric piano. Club d’Elf progresses to Middle Eastern sounds on the 11-minute “The Booloolu,” centered on a Moroccan 12/8 beat, which provides a compelling and hypnotic performance. Fribgane is gripping on his percussion instruments. Fribgane is in the spotlight during his composition “Hegaz,” based on a traditional Arabic scale. Here, Fribgane puts his oud to great usage, while the band merges electronics, electric guitar, drums and keyboards to blend jazz with Mideast musical qualities. The heady mélange of Western elements (hip hop groove and samples, and rock-inclined electric guitar) and Moroccan segments fuels the 12-minute closer, the traditional “Berber Song.” Levine (who echoes a myriad of classic rock six-stringers) and Medeski (on B-3 organ) contribute scorching solos while the band takes the music into jam band territory.
Disc two starts with a group jam, the 11-minute “Al-Hadra,” (named after a Sufi religious ritual) which highlights guest flautist Workman, who supplies an ethereal, atmospheric attribute. Medeski adds to the ambiance with his equally high-register melodica, and gradually an insistent beat bubbles up and other instruments convey a dance-lit groove. The Middle Eastern influence gears up more notches during a reading of the traditional Gnawa “Zeed Al Maal,” which Rivard learned while touring Morocco in 2009. This version is propelled by Fribgane’s ceremonial-esque vocals, Rivard’s prominent application of the Moroccan sintir, and more flute from Workman. Levine and Medeski cultivate a jazz/jam band advancement on Rivard’s “Power Plant,” powered by Medeski’s organ work and Levine’s snaky guitar. There are some early moments during “Zeed Al Maal,” when a late-1970s Pink Floyd vibe slips into the mix, particularly when Medeski appears to channel that band’s keyboardist, Richard Wright. Rock, jam band and hip hop inspirations filter through the two-tune combination “Salvia” (seemingly titled after the largest genus of plants in the mint family), and “Green Screen,” which is decisively imbedded with an electrifying rock surge. The sextet concludes in an apt way with Fribgane’s traditionally-minded composition, “Sidi Rabi,” which is evenly split between respect and exaltation for Moroccan music (the first half) and an elevating rock/jazz arrangement (the piece’s second half).
CD 1: Mogador, Africa, The Booloolu, Hegaz, Secret Atom, Berber Song
CD 2: Al-Hadra, Zeed Al Maal, Power Plant, Salvia, Green Screen, Sidi Rabi