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Club d'Elf

Mark Sabbatini By

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The songs are all lengthy, dance-beat driven in an electronic Miles kind of way, and feature instrumentals that are often sparse, meandering and slow to develop.
Here's a band who's music jam band fans may never need to buy -although they really should at some point.

It's easy to classify Club d'Elf as one more in a crowded field, but they take things a step beyond with their music prowess and an astonishing range of guest musicians.

Postings featuring this trio may not be as prolific as the Greatful Dead and Phish (groups that can actually be filtered out of some site's searches due to their sheer number), but are among the most numerous in jazz with dozens of stage and audience recordings online.

The May 20 performance at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, Mass., is a release party for three double-CD live sets (a highly diverse collection that have received generally favorable reviews). It is one of 22 shows by the band available at the Live Music Archive . The nine tracks from the performance are unprotected variable-bit MP3s that total 2.3 hours in length and 202MB in size.

The core group consists of bassist and composer Mike Rivard, drummer Erik Kerr, and oud player and percussionist Brahim Fribgane (who didn't play this date). Among the guest performers are guitarist Dave Fiuczynski, keyboard and MIDI flautist Alain Mallet, and turntable spinner Mister Rourke.

There is a more recent July 14 performance posted as of this review, but it suffers from a serious lack of volume -a shame because it seems likely to be a superior date since Fribgane is present along with guest keyboardist John Medeski.

This isn't jam music for listeners wanting a continuous barrage of thought-provoking passages (for that check out the Jacob Fred Jazz Odessy, the subject of my previous online review). The songs are all lengthy, dance-beat driven in an electronic Miles kind of way, and feature instrumentals that are often sparse, meandering and slow to develop. Much of it is unquestionably interesting, but focusing in for the duration of the show can be a challenge.

Within this realm, however, is a vast range of styles from folk to funk to ethnic. Kerr is always intense on the beat, if a bit monotonous at times, and Rivard constantly shifts approaches with a knowledge appropriate for someone who has jammed with so many noteworthy players.

The opening "Like A Silence" opens with a minimal ethnic beat, with Rivard joining in on a simple hook after about three minutes. Other players offer more textures than discernible solos as Kerr shifts to a slow dance groove. Fiuczynski offers a sparse and not terribly sophisticated bit of soloing as the bass/ drum beat continues until about 12 minutes in, when things shift abruptly again into an electronic keyboard '70s fusion thing with a more complex beat.

The mix-and-match approach pretty much applies to the rest of the program. "Scorpionic" opens with a folk groove by Rivard that eventually progresses to a flailing -albeit less interesting -bit of rock soloing as the beat gradually shifts to funk. The best of the bunch may be "The Tingler," which starts with a Latin/African-type beat, progresses to various players providing brief exclamations over a guitar/drum beat, builds a complex canvas out of various repetitive parts, and culminates in a bit of trance that is more diverse than most here in instrumentation and style.

The sound quality is solid, but the drums, bass and guitars dominate -whether this was intentional or not. One has to strain a bit too hard to hear the keys and turntables, and makes it hard to discern subtleties the players might be striving for.

Deciding whether to download this is pretty simple: If you're into this kind of music you'll almost certainly appreciate the performance (and it seems likely there are plenty of other shows that may prove more rewarding). If not, this show probably won't make a convert out of you, but it might be worth looking at the personnel list for other shows to see if any favorites are among the guests to see how they sound in this setting.

Tracks: Like A Silence; Improv; Salvia; Big Light In Sky; Scorpionic; The Tingler; The Tingler (Cont'd); Trance Meeting; Bass Beatbox

Personnel: Dave Fiuczynski, guitar; Alain Mallet, keyboards; Mister Rourke, turntables; Micro Vard, bass, sintir; Erik Kerr, drums; Jerry Leake, tablas, percussion

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