Club d’Elf celebrates new album at Columbus Theatre

Posted 3/30/22

Boston psychedelic jazz collective Club d’Elf separates themselves from their contemporaries due to their inclusion of North African elements into their sound, notably from the country of …

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Club d’Elf celebrates new album at Columbus Theatre


Boston psychedelic jazz collective Club d’Elf separates themselves from their contemporaries due to their inclusion of North African elements into their sound, notably from the country of Morocco. The band has a revolving lineup centered on the rhythm section of bassist Mike Rivard and Dean Johnston on drums. Sometimes they’re joined by the legendary keyboardist John Medeski from the New York City based avant-garde jazz-funk trio Medeski, Martin & Wood, which they will be when they perform at the Columbus Theatre on 270 Broadway in Providence on April 9th at 7pm. The show has a special theme to it as it rings in the release of the collective’s latest album, You Never Know, that’ll be out on April 1 via Face Pelt Records. Along with Rivard, Johnston and Medeski, guitarist David Fiuczynski, percussionist Brahim Fribgane and turntablist Mister Rourke will be rounding out the lineup.

Rivard was introduced to this unique musical approach by one of the most extraordinary musicians in the history of Boston’s music scene and he’s been hooked on it ever since. Through this introduction, he eventually started Club d’Elf back in 1998.

“I’ve always been really attracted to Moroccan music, especially gnawa music where the primary instrument is called a sentir or gimbri and it’s similar to a bass,” he says about how he got into the style. “Being a bass player, I’m generally attracted to the low end sound and when I first heard that instrument years ago while playing with Mark Sandman from Morphine, he played me a recording by Hassan Hakmoun titled ‘Gift of the Gnawa’ which featured the sentir.”

Rivard considers this part of his life to be a mind-blowing experience that completely changed his musical point of view. Sometime afterwards, he started hanging out with some Moroccans in Boston at a local store that used to be in the city called Moroccan Bazaar. It was there he became familiar with Fribgane, who he met in New York City before the percussionist moved to Boston to join the band. In turn, he became a heavy influence in the inclusion of North African styles.

“Gnawa music for me represents the epitome of trance music,” Rivard adds. “It’s always been an essential element of our sound in the ancient sense of the term rather than the modern electronic genre it’s viewed as today, even though that sometimes plays a part in the music as well. Through my connection with the sentir, it’s what drew me to Moroccan music in particular.”

Rivard and Medeski’s friendship started over 30 years ago when they were playing in the same band together. They’ve always been close over the years and Medeski was there when the creative nucleus for Club d’Elf started coming together at a club right outside of Boston proper.

“John and I have had a friendship since the late ‘80s, he lived in Boston and joined a band that I was playing with at the time called The Either/Orchestra,” Rivard talks about their friendship. “We played together in that band for a few years while bonding through our mutual love of John Waters flicks and horror movies.”

Their friendship continued when Medeski moved to New York City to start Medeski, Martin & Wood. The beginnings of Club d’Elf came to be when Rivard and some musicians started hosting an open-ended improv night at Lizard Lounge in the nearby college town of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Rivard pitched a vision to booker Billy Beard of a core rhythm section anchoring the evening with different musicians coming in to put their own spin on the music. Medeski started becoming part of this residency and has become an unofficial core member of the band while appearing on eight of their albums.

Speaking of albums, You Never Know consists of one half being covers consisting of renditions of music from Miles Davis, Frank Zappa and a well-known Moroccan band called Nass El Ghiwane. The other half consists of originals with Medeski joining in on a few tracks along with Rourke DJ’ng on the album while throwing in samples and allusions to writings by the author Terence McKenna.

“This album is kind of the fullest expression of what we’ve done with all the music that’s influenced us and in a way it’s a tribute to the music that’s inspired us,” Rivard describes what You Never Know is all about. “It all gets thrown into the blender and what comes out is our kind of music.”


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