Club d’Elf Turns 15

•February 15, 2013 • 3 Comments


15th Anniversary Poster by A. Minor


Hypnosonics, Middle East, Cambridge, MA. Circa late 80s. Photo by Wayne Valdez


D’Elf circa 2002. DJ C, Brahim Fribgane, Erik Kerr, Randy Roos, Micro, Alain Mallet. Photo by Mark Wilson

On a Thursday night in early February 1998, a rag-tag group of musicians gathered together at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the first “ceremony” in a residency that now spans 15 years. Club d’Elf was born, and while the band has traveled as far afield as Japan, it is at the Lizard where the sonic alchemy that the band is interested in most fully comes to fruition. That night 15 years ago saw a line-up mostly comprised of Mark Sandman‘s “secret band”, Hypnosonics: Sandman on guitar & vocals, your humble narrator on bass, Dana Colley & Russ Gershon on saxes, Tom Halter on trumpet and J. Hilt on drums. Duke Levine (guitar),  Jerry Leake (tablas), Jere Faison (sampler) & John Dirac (guitar) rounded out the personnel, and the music drew primarily from the Hypnosonics songbook, along w/ tunes that Jerry, Jere and I had been workshopping.  It was Sandman who lit a fire under my ass and got me to start the thing, tired as he was of my continued complaining of him not booking enough Hypnos gigs, and he who approved of the name (“Period Zipple”, a reference to an underground cassette that musician friends passed around, was another contender, fortunately nixed).

Billy Beard was booking the joint, and i pitched to him the idea of a house band doing dubbed-out trance grooves with a rotating schedule of special guests, and he liked the idea and gave me a few dates to see how it would go. I had been listening to a lot of Bill Laswell‘s Axiom label experiments, along with Portishead, Soul Coughing and early drum’n’bass, and was interested in combining these influences with the Indian and West African music i had been playing in another band (that also featured Leake on tablas), Natraj. There were a lot of such things going on in NYC, but not so much in Boston, and the music found an audience hungry for a scene of this sort. A favorable review in the Boston Globe helped generate interest, and without really understanding what was happening, the entity that would become my life’s obsession and eventually lead me into near-financial ruin, destroy my mariage, drive me insane, while simultaneously providing the fullest forum for my musical & spiritual interests, licked the afterbirth off of itself and grinned at the world.

Its been an amazing ride, with all the highs and lows one would expect of something so drenched in energies alien and occult, and involving the participation of over 125 musicians over the course of its life, each bringing with him or her (sadly, mostly hims) a unique perspective on what the thing was all about. It was never a solo project for me or a forum for ego-based bass excursions, and my hope has always been to recreate D’Elf for every show and make guests feel as at home as they would fronting their own band. Sometimes successful, sometimes not.

If I had to name a favorite moment this one comes to mind: the first time we played in Japan at the Hotaka Mountain festival in August 2001, just before the world changed. Brahim Fribgane had joined the band in ’99 and initiated us into the wonderful world of Moroccan trance music. Alas, having a Moroccan passport put him low on the totem pole w/ the Japanese authorities and we could not get him a visa by the time of our departure. Alain Mallet, Randy Roos, Jake Trussell (aka DJ C) and Adam Deitch (subbing for our drummer Erik Kerr who could not make the tour) left without Brahim, praying that his visa would arrive and he would join us later. A world where cell phones and the internet were mostly absent left us in the dark as to his status, and hours before our set time he had still not appeared, though we heard that he had made it into the country and was on his way through the countryside to the sea of mud that was the festival. We were in the midst of being interviewed by a Japanese TV crew when an hour before the set he appeared, exhausted from over 24 hours of straight travel. I don’t think i’ve ever gone into a gig with such happiness.

Oh, and then there was the time when one of the guys in the band had a divorce summons delivered to him onstage at the Lizard, only he wasn’t on the gig and it was given to another band member by mistake. Good times.

One of my regrets is that i never had a photograph taken of each band, for it was different for every show. That would be a most interesting slide show, and maybe there’s a universe somewhere where that happened. To have had so many incredible musicians come in and  play – most of whom were my friends – and have a forum for us to create and share a musical language (equal parts Gnawa, jazz, hip hop, drum’n’bass, dub, rock, you name it)…well, its been pretty gratifying. People have come and gone, and some even left this world. We lost Sandman and then Joe Maneri, and i feel their loss immensely. Erik Kerr departed for Pittsburgh in ’06 and Dean Johnston came aboard. But its a family and once you’re in, you’re pretty much in, even when you wish to pull a Scarface. Other figures who have played (and continue to do so) a big part in the band’s history include John Medeski, Mat Maneri, Dave Tronzo, Tom Hall, Paul Schultheis, Mister Rourke..each of whom has left a big imprint.

15 years seems like a long time for a band, but then again this is a band that breaks up at the end of every show and then reunites again for the next one, so its not typical. I have no idea where the future lies, and while i had hopes (and still do) of taking this circus out to the peoples all over the world, the realities of the music business, compounded by economic woes and various other obstacles have stood in the way of that becoming a reality, but who knows? Going to Morocco would be nice especially, and we are still working on that particular fantasy. Stay tuned.

Oh, and we got some love from the Boston Globe & Boston Herald, with the Globe also putting up some video.

Winners of the “Write a Club d’Elf review” contest!

•August 5, 2011 • 1 Comment

Announcing the winners of our contest: Tommy Smith, Chris Weekly & Jason Snyder. Sniff…if only there were more folks like these folks out there, it would be…i don’t know, a better world? At least one where more people bought our music! And thats a good place to start. Btw, this contest is still OPEN! Win a free download of D’Elfian goodness! And badness!

1. The CD That Will Forever Change Your Life (Amazon review)

Electric Moroccland/So Below is Mike Rivard’s magnum opus, a quintessential and perfectly balanced work that somehow encompasses the whole of the d’Elf journey on two CDs.

I’ve been a diehard d’Elf fan since 2002 when I inadvertently discovered their live performances through a site called, which hosts live Miles Davis recordings from the 60s and 70s. Needless to say I was blown away by what I heard but I wasn’t overpowered. The experience was subtle, gradual and thoroughly engaging. It has greatly influenced me as a jazz pianist and my wife as a tribal fusion belly dancer.

Enthralled from the beginning by the concept and what I was hearing I honed my understanding of the band by downloading a number of shows available at I noticed each time a song was performed, the only static element was Rivard’s bass line, all else was subject to the interpretation of the players. This ingenious idea yields a boundless variety of flavors that has managed to keep me intrigued ever since. The fact that Rivard has successfully captured the essence of this evolution on CD is a testament to his personal passion and appreciation for this beautiful intangible thing he has created.

Here was this formless funk infused by a progressive yet minimalistic sensibility and manipulated by the dramatis personae of truly innovative players gathered on any given night. The sound was raw, unrehearsed and beyond the scope of genre. An idiom might be implied by certain instrumentations (trance, jazz, Gnawa, electronica, ambient, drum/bass, funk, blues, et al.) but this wasn’t music for purists. Club d’Elf is a Mecca, an uninhibited haven for musicians of all calibers, influences, religions and ethnicities to express themselves through improvisation and open musical conversation. The music ebbs and flows, sometimes it is vibrant, organic and random while other times it is cold, dark and deterministic. There are layers of dissonance, rhythmic inflection and time signatures that bend the Western mind yet elsewhere the music is lush and soothing, conforming to the mind like cool water. Regardless, at the heart of it all there will always be the mantric groove binding it together.

Part of the genius of Club d’Elf is in the willingness of each player to step forward and command the music, often with a frenetic virtuosity that can challenge the ear of many listeners. However, those same musicians, whose ability and ego work in true tandem then vanish fluidly back into the amorphous soundscape, nudging things gently and in no particular rush (live d’Elf tracks often cross the 30 minute mark). And the perpetually pulsing engine driving this Protean machine is the haunting and unfaltering groove forged by the fingertips of Mike Rivard with Haephestean precision. From his vantage point he stirs the water lazily, giving every idea time to bloom without becoming stagnant.

Electric Moroccoland/So Below tells the story of Club d’Elf if you listen closely. There is the influence of perhaps a prime mover in the d’Elf saga Mark Sandman (Rope on Fire, So Below), who exposed Rivard to Moroccan trance. There is the story of Rivard’s quest to master the sintir and his exploration of Moroccoan styles. On Trance Meeting you will hear samples of Terence McKenna, whose hyper-dimensional elves influenced the name of the band. And then there is the cast of 25 musicians (representing a total cast of nearly 100) who somehow shape the shapeless by impishly evading definition and style. Through d’Elf I’ve learned of players with unique voices like Dave Tronzo (slide guitar), Joe and Matt Maneri (sax and electric viola respectively), DJ Rourke (turntables), Jere Faison (sampler), Paul Schultheis (keys), Alain Mallet (keys) and Brahim Fribgane (oud, percussion) arguably the most influential member of the band. I also recognized many familiar names on the roster like John Medeski (keys), Reeves Gabrels (guitar), DJ Logic (turntables) and Dave “Fuze” Fiuczynski (guitar).

For me personally, the highlights include Scorpionic, Berber Song, Sidi Rabi, Rope on Fire, Middle Pillar, So Below, Salvia and Trance Meeting. By all means, start here with Electric Moroccoland/So Below but don’t stop. Visit and delve into the innovations a dozen years in the making. Also be sure to check out the other CDs (Now I Understand, Perhapsody, Gravity All Nonsense, Live Athens 3/28/02). -Tommy Smith

2. Indescribably Awesome (eMusic review)

And awesomely indescribable. Either way, this is just an incredible band and this latest release is among their best work. Bassist/sintirist/composer Micro Vard lays such a solid foundation and brings in influences from *everywhere*. I love the Oud work on Ambib and Instar, and Gettin Squinty and So Below are highlights for me on the 2nd disc, but the whole thing flows so well it’s hard to pick tracks. Get the whole thing and put on some headphones, it’s a rewarding trip. 10/10, A+. – Chris Weekly

3. Moroccan Dub Vacation (iTunes review)

The many friends and members of this Moroccan trance band have come up with a double disc that will knock your socks off. Club d’Elf brings in Brahim Fribgane’s oud to the first CD and drops you right in the middle of the streets of Morocco.The second disc, So Below, let’s you slink in the dark shadows with the help of John Medeski and DJ Logic and many other talented musicians. This double disc will show you how d’elves do it, with swirling jazz to bubbling dub, they shimmer in the darkness. Don’t pass this richly layered studio album up!
-Jason Snyder

Thanks, guys. Ladies?