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Club D'Elf
Now I Understand  (AC-5054, released 2006)

Amid static and tape flicker an ominous but cartoonish voice emerges to declare: "The world is under attack at this very moment by the most powerful forces man has ever seen: creatures from space, monsters from the depths of the earth and criminals operating right within our cities. They must be destroyed before they destroy the world. Operation Lifesaver is in effect as of right now." It's a clear signal that something transformative is waiting in the wings, scary and funny at the same time. And indeed, many of the listener's natural perceptions of sound and aural equilibrium are about to be pushed to the limit. This is precisely the kind of sonic journey that defines the debut studio album by the Boston-based collective, Club d'Elf, Now I Understand, on Accurate Records. Eight years in the making, it's a recording of great depth, intrigue and adventure. But more than just a musical experiment, human warmth and spirituality prevail. Club d'Elf has created an inspirational work completely unto itself. The release of Now I Understand will be celebrated with shows at the Lizard Lounge, Cambridge MA, on Sept. 21 (pre-release party), September 23 at the Bowery Ballroom, NYC (opening for John Brown's Body), October 12 at the Lizard Lounge for the official Boston release party and October 18 at Tonic, shows at 8 & 10, for the official NY release party. More dates are in the works and will be announced soon.


Club d'Elf is the brainchild of bassist Mike Rivard, one of the most respected musicians on the Boston scene, having played with a startling variety of artists including The Either/Orchestra, Natraj (Indo-jazz), Hypnosonics (with members of Morphine), The Story, Aimee Mann, and Paula Cole to name but a few. In 1998, Rivard seized the opportunity to organize a residency at Cambridge's ultra-hip Lizard Lounge by creating a rhythm section-oriented band with a floating cast of guitar, keyboard and horn players. Playing his tunes, which draw on influences ranging from Miles Davis and The Meters to electronica and Moroccan music, Rivard created a distinctly personal style from the bottom up, a sound which varies depending on the sidemen, but is always fascinatingly broad and a mile deep.


Club d'Elf's existence as an ever-changing peformance ensemble made it logical that its first seven CDs were live albums. Here, d'Elf's first studio recording reflects another side of leader Rivard's musical personality. Now I Understand takes fearless improvisations recorded "live in the studio" and weaves them into tight, layered compositions, perfectly paced and meticulously detailed. Primarily occupied with creating virtually a new edition of the band for every show - dozens of personnel combinations over the years - and the seven live albums, Rivard has taken years to construct the studio tracks, the process of recording, editing and mixing, documenting the composer/bandleader and ensemble's journey through time. Collaborators include d'Elf regulars John Medeski on Hammond organ, Wurlitzer piano, Mellotron and analog synthesizer, Billy Martin on drums, Mat Maneri on viola, Dave Tronzo, Duke Levine, Gerry Leonard (aka Spooky Ghost) and Reeves Gabrels on guitar, Alain Mallet on keyboards and DJ Logic on turntables. The core of the band, its rhythm section, remains consistent: Rivard on bass and a Moroccan three stringed bass lute called the sintir, Brahim Fribgane on oud, dumbek and percussion, Mister Rourke on turntables and Erik Kerr on drums.


As Now I Understand unfolds, Club d'Elf reveals itself to be firmly rooted in trance music, both contemporary electronic forms and traditional forms like Moroccan Berber and Gnawa music, and Sufi music. The opening cut, "Bass Beatbox," has a distinct drum'n'bass vibe, but the warmth of the drum sounds and the natural swing to the beat patterns make clear that these are not computer generated loops, but real players laying down a ferocious groove. "Hungry Ghosts" presents a Medeski Wurlitzer-driven sound tapestry punctuated by Dave Tronzo's razor sharp slide guitar and DJ Logic's conversational turntable scratchings. By the time track four, "Quilty," begins with the simply stated pronouncement, "some thoughts have a certain sound," Club d'Elf hopes the listener will have achieved something like an altered state. Deeply layered, dream-like, repetitive rhythms created by tablas, trap kits and turntables give way to Brahim Fribgane on oud. "Vishnu Dub" remains on this elevated level.


At this point the listener encounters something both down to earth and ethereal: the voice of Jenifer Jackson, singing an obscure '60s number, A Toy for a Boy,  brought to Rivard's attention on a mix tape by Tom Ardolino of NRBQ. Originally recorded by the Ray Charles Singers (no - not that Ray Charles, but an easy-listening schlockmeister whose career was either jump-started or prematurely ended by his unfortunate name), Jackson's delivery is both sultry and ironic, riding a Portishead-like trip-hop feel.


The title track, "Now I Understand" begs the repeated question, "are you ready to die?," the centripetal force of Mat Maneri's electric viola slowly building into a rock-steady, circular groove, while Reeves Gabrels' slashing guitar skronks and squeals eerily amongst the chaos. And this only takes us half-way through Now I Understand.


Now I Understand is an album packed with brilliant players and performances, reflecting many lifetimes of musical experience, yet it never feels busy or cluttered. With spot-on pacing and balance, the end of the 67 minute program will leave listeners ready to listen again and again


"The sound of the future is here."

-Boston Magazine's Best of Boston


"The roaring avant-funk of electric-era Miles [and] the legato drift of the Grateful Dead...heady music that doesn't neglect the tail."

 -Time Out New York


"After seven double-CD releases of live material (!), Club d'Elf finally drop their first studio album, eight years in the making. They're still plying their patented world fusion/avant-garde jazz/dub/trance chillout music and the m.o. is still basically the same, but the studio aspect allows for greater options on a number of levels. Club d'Elf's Mike Rivard can draw from an unbelievable talent pool (close to 100 players have been "members" of the club), but the live shows are constrained by who can physically attend the gig on any given night. With the studio, Rivard can put together any band he wants, whether they could all be in the same room at the same time or not. The studio also allows for a lusher, more layered sound, multiple overdubs, and detailed production touches that just can't be pulled off live. For example, "Wet Bones" was purely a studio construction built around a Billy Martin solo drum track (released on Illy B Eats, Vol. 1) and has Rivard playing a couple basses as well as sintir and effects. You can't do that live. Other tracks, like "Bass Beat Box" and "Now I Understand," have been part of the live show for years, but benefit from the added production. Great performances litter Now I Understand, but John Medeski and Mat Maneri deserve special mention (just check the Mellotron/electric viola feature on "Bass Beat Box") for their near ubiquity on the album. Guitarists Duke Levine, Dave Tronzo, and Reeves Gabrels are also on board for a track each. Brahim Fribgane contributes some earthy oud playing in several spots, and both Mister Rourke and DJ Logic turn in some nice work on the turntables, with Rivard anchoring the proceedings throughout with his big fat bass grooves. Now I Understand isn't an improvement over the live d'Elf shows; it's a different side of the same organism. Consider it the polished gemstone to the uncut diamonds of the live releases. Excellent."