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Club d'Elf: Night Sparkles

Doug Collette By

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Night Sparkles follows bassist/sintirist Mike Rivard on his continuing adventures into the "Moroccan-based psychedelic dub" style he initiated with Club d'Elf in the 1990s. It's altogether remarkable he's managed to formulate such a novel approach to improvisational music while juggling the near-perpetual rotating cast of personnel, but it is to the great credit of the titular leader that his stewardship encourages invention from his bandmates, whoever they may be (in the not so recent past, keyboardist John Medeski and guitarist Duke Levine).

Despite the somewhat enlarged size of this particular ensemble, the album sounds lighter and more open than some music of Club D'Elf such as Perhapsody (Kufala,2007). But on this particular evening, the participating individuals humbly make room for each other throughout. Certainly Vicente Lebron on congas and percussion widens the space for David Tronzo's slide guitar on "End of Firpo Pt, 1," but this comes after (and continues into) the crisp tones of the Rhodes electric piano Paul Schultheis plays. The keyboardist then proceeds directly to his Moog after the fretboard interlude, participating in a passage that heats up considerably before it's over. As depicted here, Club D'Elf is as enticing to listen to on headphones as speakers: in either mode, the band's music will deeply insinuate itself equally into the mind and body.

And that is exactly what happens on Night Sparkles over the course of its near sixty-minutes duration. The bandleader's production, like Scott Cragg's mastering, reminds how much Club D'Elf loves its technology, yet the group never succumbs to slavery to the machine(s). The title "Dance of the Machine Elves" illustrates as much, but the use of Dean Johnston's electronic drums on the second part of the opening tracks present more practical evidence: those timbres present sharp contrast with guitar and synthesizer lines that snake in and around each other. As if often the case too, Rivard's bass sets the course, often by encircling the other instruments, moving them en masse in a new direction.

The entire band deserves kudos as it contributes to the continuity of the track sequence as played as a full set that winter night outside Boston. And in this case, the expansion and contraction of Club d'Elf's motion accommodated master djembe drummer Moussa Traore who, never even having heard the band before, nevertheless proceeded to ignite the music into an even more fiery conflagration. Various instruments, including the quaint tones of Leo Blanco's melodica, ebb and flow within a performance Joe Stewart recorded and mixed in such a way the light and shade come and go in swathes both large and small, the liquidity of which remains consistently fascinating from start to finish.

Consequently, regardless of the source from whence come such witty titles as "Ecstatic Cling Pts. 1 and 2," or that of the album itself, atmosphere takes precedence. On Night Sparkles, Club D'Elf engrosses through the ingenuity of the musicians and the alternately porous and dense interplay they enact.

Track Listing: End of Firpo Pt 1; End of Firpo Pt 2; Dance of the Machine Elves; Night Sparkles; Ecstatic Cling Pt 1; Ecstatic Cling Pt 2.

Personnel: Mike Rivard: bass; Dean Johnston: acoustic & electronic drums; David Tronzo: slide guitar; Paul Schultheis: Rhodes, Moog, melodica; Vicente Lebron: congas, percussion; Moussa Traore: djembe (3-6); Leo Blanco: melodica (6).

Title: Night Sparkles | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Face Pelt Records

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