It's not really necessary to be a dervish dancer to appreciate Club d'Elf, especially because, on Live at Club Helsinki, the prominence of varied sounds from Duke Levine's electric guitars, combined with the keyboard wizardry of John Medeski, is enough to capture and hold the attention of (almost) any contemporary music-lover. It's as effortless to fall into a dreamlike trance as a visceral spell in response to these extend Moroccan-influenced grooves.
The cumulative intensity, however, is almost indiscernible, as Club d'Elf can take insinuating and somewhat circuitous routes to ecstatic states of mind and body. With tracks like "Magador" and "Sidi Rabi," among others, clocking in from twelve to fourteen minutes, such extended sonic explorations aren't suited for listeners with merely minimal attention span; "Power Plant," in particular, demands some patience, especially as there isn't always a dramatic denouement involving dramatic crescendos and/or climaxes. Rather, the music of this band is an aural illustration of the truism referencing the journey not the destination.
But that's also the unique gift of Club d'Elf to turn those moments they play and vocalize into a state worth complete and total immersion (the intonations of Brahim Fribgane's voice add to the hallucinatory edge). Recorded in November of 2012 at the Hudson New York club, post-production by bandleader and bassist Mike Rivard preserves the necessary depth of sound and the resulting impact of the fury of the group's interactions, even when it's understated during the Thomas Workman flute intervals dominating "Al Hadra."
Rivard's dub-influenced interplay with co-Club linchpin Dean Johnston on "Berber Song," however, is hypnotic in the extreme because their human interaction is endlessly fascinating to begin with. Textures of percussion ebb and flow like the alternating of guitarist Levine and Medeski's varied instruments so that the layers of sound overlap and intermix. Little wonder Club d'Elf make such a potent, intoxicating sound: every player in the band is a catalyst to combustion to one degree or another, which is why this music doesn't lend itself to mere suitable background effect.
Collectively credited for composition, "The Booloolu" and "Secret Atom" compel close attention in the hopes of figuring out how the tune came to be in this arrangement at this time and place. And those are just the most obvious objects of curiosity on Live at Club Helsinki: the beauty of the double CD set (apart from the mandala-like cover image) lies in the bountiful enticements of the music.
Disc 1: Mogador, Africa, The Booloolu, Hegaz, Secret Atom, Berber Song. Disc 2: Al-
Hadra; Zeed Al Maal; Power Plant; Salvia; Green Screen; Sidi Rabi.
Mike Rivard: bass, sinter, bass kalimba; Dean Johnston: drums; John Medeski: B3,
piano, electric piano, clavinet, mellotron, melodica; . Brahim Fribgane: oud,
percussion, voice; Mister Rourke: DJ; Duke Levine: guitar; Thomas Workman: flute
(Disc 2: 1, 2).
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