You Never Know is the Club d'Elf studio album that captures the whirling, overlapping orbits of acoustic, electric and exotic sounds of the floating improvisational collective, which has recorded and performed together for more than two decades, with crisp studio clarity.
But more importantly, You Never Know celebrates light born from darkness. Bassist and bandleader Mike Rivard, the sole constant in the collective's 24-year run, suffered a near-death experience from a pulmonary embolism which struck him while he was exploring remote jungles near the Peruvian Amazon. Seeking peace and comfort, and to assist his physical, emotional and spiritual recovery, Rivard returned to the composers and musical styles of his roots: North African trance music known as gnawa, which Rivard began exploring on sintir (a three-stinged bass lute) decades ago, plus the music of Miles Davis, the Moroccan band Nass el-Ghiwane, Frank Zappa and Joe Zawinul.
It's surprising that these sonic shape-shifters didn't record their own interpretation of the Prince of Darkness' protean "In A Silent Way / It's About That Time" until this, the band's twelfth release. Its opening hovers in space like a sweet, luscious cloud of cotton candy, then electric guitar slices through with the haunting blue melody, and their two sounds together resonantly float and dance. By "That Time," the music twirls like a gyroscope on pinwheeling circles of snare drum and cymbal, and then this famous electric meditation ends with guitar roaring into what sounds like madness.
Frank Zappa's episodic "King Kong" starts out like Richard "Groove" Holmes warming up on some sticky Hammond B-3 chords, brings in drums and bass, and builds into a never-ending stream that helps the guitar solo flow. Everything drops out to allow a thunderstorm of tribal percussion to rumble through, then that Hammond B-3 returns, this time like a booster rocket that electrifies this multi-part monster into movement. "King Kong" was the tour de force of Zappa's 1969 release Uncle Meat and it's a fitting climax to this set, too.
You Never Know revisits "Zeed Al Maal," traditional gnawa trance which Rivard has been exploring onstage (at least) since 2015's Live at Club Helsinki. Brahim Fribgane's throaty vocal burns through the repeating trance music as guitars and keyboards, oud and samples weave a thick, hypnotic sound, and rises like a smoking incantation into a deep spiritual intensity.
"Boney Oscar Stomp" is like listening to The Staples Singers warm up a funk groove on their instruments while they're waiting for their acid to kick in...and then their acid kicks in. Like just about everything else on You Never Know, you might call this opening tune Buzz Lightyear music: It takes the listener to infinity, and beyond.
Boney Oscar Stomp; Zeed Al Maal; Now Open Yours Eyes; Golden Hour; In A Silent Way / It's About That Time; Dark Fish; Dervish Dance; Lalla Aisha In Jhaptal; Allah Ya Moulana; King Kong.
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