Club D'Elf: 100 Years of Flight & Live

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I'm pretty certain the geometric, polychromatic designs on the Club d'Elf album covers are meant to be stared at while listening. Because if your eyes linger long enough, the patterns propel into motion.

Club d'Elf
100 Years of Flight (12/18/2003)
Live (5/26/2004)
Kufala Recordings

With a shifting lineup, the group's latest two releases, 100 Years of Flight , recorded at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge last December, and Live , recorded last May at Tonic, each contain two discs, representing one set each from the entire two-hour show from each night. Gargantuan blocks of sound shift past each other, gliding by nonchalantly, or bouncing gently against an angle, a crook in the sonic structure and flying awkwardly, spastically into another dimension. These sounds aren't in typical jazz or rock repertoire. They're a whacked-out-of- your-mind fusion that borrows inspiration as much from '50s beatniks and '70s jazz/rock pioneers as it does from underground techno-drones of tomorrow's messed up world.

Live is the considerably tighter of the two, perhaps due to an added electronic element provided by turntables, but 100 Years is not without its pleasures. Mellow, moody tracks create a basement-happening environment that starts out inconspicuous but ends up raunchy. During "Fire In The Brain," Dave Tronzo's reverberating effects on slide guitar set the wheels in motion for the trancelike stupor. Erik Kerr's drums keep a tight lock on the beat during Tronzo's wild, psychedelic solo that breaks into Mike Rivard's flurried bass line before capping off with another solo on guitar, this one frighteningly furious. The title track incorporates a schizophrenic percussive mash into a thick, instrumental congestion, all navigated by Mat Maneri's groaning electric viola.

Rivard writes cute rhythms like in "Dream Wanderer Pt. 2" where Maneri's plucking drips over an earthy bass tone. A primal element enters on "Al Aita", the last tune on the first disc, when Lotfi Tiken breaks the electronic diatribe by offering his voice—maybe a little out of place after the wall of improvisational instrumentation we've just been bombarded with, or a happy respite from the churning repetition that was beginning to grind on the brain.

The addition of a DJ (Mister Rourke) and exemplary percussionist Brahim Fribgane brings the group to a lofty new stratum on Live. With Marc Ribot taking over on guitar, Adam Deitch on drums, John Medeski adding keyboards and a horn section on several tracks, sumptuous textures ensue.

Medeski's keys create crystalline sounds toward the end of "Bass Beatbox" that whisper of angelic harp strings. Funky guitar riffs surface on the second track "Scorpionic" and the horns join the procession of troubadours merry for mayhem. Fribgane breaks out the oud and sings with a Middle Eastern tinge on "Sidi Rabi" joining the ancient with the futuristic. Non-stop jam after non-stop jam erupts into jarring techno-jazz then dissolves into dreamy diaphanous bubble-bobble on "Big Light In Sky." Nine minutes into the tune, guitar notes ring while horns fade into the underbelly and scratching vinyl wipes out the sickly gull calls of some electro-effect. It's a new era for fusion.

100 Years of Flight (12/18/2003, Lizard Lounge, Cambridge, MA)

Tracks: Disc 1 (Set 1) (65:18): 1. Introduction (0:48); 2. 100 Years Of Flight (16:37); 3. Fire In The Brain (18:41); 4. Jar Of Hair (7:26); 5. Big Light In Sky (4:50); 6. Dream Wanderer Pt. 2 (7:00); 7. Mogador (2:31); 8. Al Aita (7:22). Disc 2 (Set 2) (57:22): 1. Sabbath (13:49); 2. Cave Man/Actual Smiles (15:04); 3. Stripey Hole (3:49); 4. Bass Beatbox (12:12); 5. End Of Firpo (6:08); 6. Instar (6:13).
Personnel: Dave Tronzo: Slide Guitar; Mat Maneri: Electric Viola; Mike Rivard: Electric & Acoustic Basses; Erik Kerr: Drums. w/ Lotfi Tiken, Voice, Bendir & Karakab (disc 1: 6-8).

Live (5/26/2004, Tonic, NYC)

Tracks: Disc 1 (Set 1) (57:14): 1. Bass Beatbox (15:23); 2. Scorpionic (14:21); 3. Berber Song (6:57); 4. You All Over Me (6:55); 5. Berber Song Reprise (1:50); 6. Challaban (12:52). Disc 2 (Set 2) (79:21): 1. Dream Wanderer (12:57); 2. The Tingler (16:03); 3. Big Light In Sky (13:18); 4. As Above (7:52); 5. Trance Meeting (7:14); 6. Sidi Rabi (12:31); 7. [Encore] Between (9:16).
Personnel: Marc Ribot: Guitar; Brahim Fribgane: Oud, Percussion, Voice; John Medeski: Keyboards; Mister Rourke: Turntables; Mike Rivard: Electric & Acoustic Basses, Sintir; Adam Deitch: Drums. w/ Eric Hipp: Tenor Sax & Curtis Hasselbring: Trombone (disc 1, tracks 2-5; disc 2, track 2-5); Josh Roseman: Trombone (disc 2, tracks 3-4); Richard Zukowski: Voice (disc 2, track 7).

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