From the top

By JON GARELICK  |  October 4, 2006

Now I Understand, he says, is the “darker,” side, indulging the band’s taste for cyberpunk, sci-fi, and comic pranksterism, with a subtext of political protest. It starts with a scratchy old sci-fi narrator: “The world is under attack at this very moment by the most powerful forces man has ever seen!” Sustained organ tones and spooky mellotron enter, and then Eric Kerr’s fierce drum ’n’ bass–style patter. When the melody returns, it’s in an oscillating theremin voice (Medeski’s keyboards again). Throughout, Rivard smoothly varies texture, meter, and tempo. One of his most effective devices is to alternate Kerr’s double-time snare with passages of Jay Hill’s half-time John Bonham stomp. There’s Maneri’s uncanny channeling of early-’70s Miles Davis in a wah-wah voice that conjures both Miles’s electric trumpet and guitarist John McLaughlin. The one vocal feature, “A Toy for a Boy,” an old William Sanford tune sung here by Jennifer Jackson, could with its allusions to Chinese scales and Duke Levine’s smooth blues guitar be a lost Steely Dan track. There’s Beat fellow traveler Michael Brownstein reciting his paranoid poem “From the Top,” and, to wipe away all tragedy, a charming dub-reggae closer built on a sample of one of Kerr’s kids saying, “I’m just kidding!”

One of the paradoxes of Club d’Elf has always been Rivard’s adaptation of the studio techniques of electronica and hip-hop to live musicians playing in “real” time. So the d’Elf crew are impersonating sample effects that were in turn drawn from live musicians to begin with. Rivard: “It is kind of an ode to that old-school way of doing things while still trying to incorporate all the influences we have with DJ culture and electronic music. Because that’s all now part of the musical vocabulary, like learning Coltrane solos. For my bass playing, looping and electronic music have been as influential as Dave Holland or Mingus.”

He describes himself trying “to sound like a loop, where I imagine a dub producer like Bill Laswell or Lee Scratch Perry, where I’m moving my fader, dropping out for a couple of bars, so you still have the line going through your head, and then you come in for a note. So you’re thinking sort of like a meta producer.” Rivard isn’t bitter about a changing musical landscape that has put a lot of live musicians out of business but also allows him to trade files with a player in Lithuania or Morocco. “But I do miss that feeling of sitting in the same room together.” And rehearsing.

CLUB D’ELF | Lizard Lounge, 1667 Mass Ave, Cambridge | October 12 | 617.547.0759

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