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?

What’s New 3/29/11

•March 29, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Strange lights have been seen coming out the work shop at all hours, and a low, steady thrum has been emanating deep into the night from the subterranean lair of the elves, as the final preparations for the birth of Electric Moroccoland/So Below are made.

On April 5, 2011 the band will release it’s tenth CD, and first on its own label, Face Pelt. Not content with merely ONE album, the release consists of TWO complete albums, with D’Elf Does Maghreb on Electric Moroccoland, and So Below representing the sample-heavy, DJ & electronica-driven side of the band’s sound. Primarily instrumental in nature, there are also vocal turns by Gnawa music legend Hassan Hakmoun on Electric Moroccoland, singing the Cream classic “Sunshine Of Your Love” in Moroccan Arabic as D’Elf gives the tune a decided North African slant, as well as D’Elf’s own oud maestro Brahim Fribgane singing his haunting “Sidi Rabi”; and dubbed-out & psychedelicized versions of blues & spirituals “Pharaoh” & “I Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down” from the field recordings of Alan Lomax, sung by Boston roots rocker David Johnston featured on So Below.

The band pays tribute to inspirations from all corners, including seminal Moroccan band Nass El Ghiwane (“Ghir Khoudouni” on EM), Berber musician Hadj Belaid (“Ambib” on EM), Squarepusher (“End of Firpo” on SB), psychedelic avatar Terence McKenna (“Trance Meeting” on SB) and Morphine (“Rope On Fire” on EM). Special guests abound, with John Medeski appearing on many tracks, as well as DJ Logic, Duke Levine, Dave Tronzo, ex-Bowie guitarists Reeves Gabrels and Gerry Leonard, Ghanaian master drummer Dolsi-naa Abubakari Lunna, XTC drummer Dave Mattacks, John Brown’s Body drummer Tommy B, Dana Colley and the late Mark Sandman of Morphine, in some of his last studio performances before his death. D’Elf regulars Erik Kerr, Dean Johnston, Mister Rourke, Alain Mallet, Tom Hall, Jerry Leake, Paul Schultheis & bassist/leader Mike Rivard are amongst a roster of over 25 musicians who appear on the 25 tracks (150 min of music!). Artist Doug Sirois (who did the cover art for Now I Understand) returns with yet another stunning cover image, and the sounds were captured by long time D’Elf audio engineers Randy Roos & Tom Dube.

Produced by Rivard and recorded over a period spanning 11 years and in over a dozen studios, it represents the true D’Elf Manifesto, with the band’s take on the myriad types of trance music – Moroccan gnawa, dub, hip hop, psychedelic rock, jazz & electronica – fully realized and glowing like a red-hot charcoal from the fire sizzling in your lap. Publicity for the CD and subsequent tour is being handled by Rock, Paper, Scissors, with radio promo handled by Powderfinger Promotions. A string of east coast April tour dates w/ Medeski joining the band can be found on the Shows page. The touring band will consist of Medeski, Brahim Fribgane, Mister Rourke, Mike Rivard & Dean Johnston, with special guests along the way including Hassan Hakmoun, Dave Fiuczynski, Steven Bernstein, Duke Levine, Dave Tronzo & more.

This is an exciting chapter in the annals of D’Elf and we look forward to taking many a face pelt along the way, be it live audience or over the airwaves and interwebs. Tell your friends and enemies alike that the spaceship is a-comin’!

What’s New (Jan 2011)

•January 13, 2011 • Leave a Comment

WWW Shibuya, Tokyo 12.18.10 w/ John Medeski, Steven Bernstein & Dave "Fuze" Fiuczynski

Club d’Elf’s long-awaited studio follow-up to 2006’s Now I Understand is due to be released April 5. Not content to release just a single CD, the band completed enough music for TWO separate CDs which will be packaged together. Titled Electric Moroccoland/So Below, it showcases the diversity of D’Elf’s music, and represents two distinct sides to the groups sound: unplugged, Moroccan trance; and dark, sci-fi-dosed funky electronica with DJ-driven beats. Give a listen to excerpts from each one: Electric Moroccoland & So Below.

The band toured Japan at the end of December to celebrate the release in Japan on Akashic-Ensemble of Electric Moroccoland (So Below to follow). With special guests John Medeski, Dave Fiuczysnki & Steven Bernstein along, the band rocked shows in Chiba, Tokyo & Gunma. Check out Micro’s blog about the tour here.

Hassan Hakmoun makes a guest appearance on Electric Moroccoland and has been joining the band for live shows recently, including this one from 12.13.10 at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, where the band held a benefit for musician friend (and contributor to Electric Moroccoland) Kousmat Mohammed. Moroccan music, and especially Gnawa and Berber music, has increasingly become a dominant flavor in the tagine of the band’s sound, and the group has been setting it’s eyes on more cultural events such as the Mimouna festival hosted by the New Center for the Art & Culture, where D’Elf was featured in April ’10 and plans to return this year.

Bassist & leader Mike Rivard received a 2011 Somerville Arts Council arts fellowship grant, which he plans to use for the purchase of a new sintir. His trip to Morocco in Dec 2009 is detailed in several blogs, found here, here & here, and was financed by the University of The Middle East & the US Dept of State. He also received an Iguana Music Fund grant to help finance completion of Electric Moroccoland.

Oud player & percussionist Brahim Fribgane just returned from Senegal, Africa, where he performed Jan 3rd with Hassan Hakmoun at the World Festival of Black Arts in Dakar.

D’elf Does Japan 2010

•January 7, 2011 • 1 Comment

Medeski, Fuze, Micro, Dux & Bernstein, Gunma, 12.19.10

Bringing the D’Elf music to The Land of The Rising Sun has been one of the things I’ve most looked forward to ever since Taichi from Organic Groove Productions first brought us there in 2001 to play the Hotaka Mountain festival.

Band & Iko Iko staff at 2001 Hotaka Mountain festival, Japan

We were last there in 2008 to play the Sense of Wonder Festival at the foot of Mt. Fuji, and I have been jonesing to go back to this mesmerizing place ever since.

Kenwood, Skerik, Fuze, Rikiya & Micro backstage at Sense Of Wonder festival, 2008

The allure of the Orient has had it’s spell on me starting from my childhood when my dad would come back from being stationed there, bringing with him wondrous things made of carved wood, bone and shiny brass, and redolent of mysteries that were beyond my ken. Playing for the audiences in Japan is just plain amazing (“shinji lolly na!” in my bad phonetic spelling), and thus it was with great delight that I greeted the news that Taichi wanted to bring us there for our 5th tour, to coincide with the release of our new CD Electric Moroccoland in Japan on Akashic-Ensemble. It would be an extra-special trip this time, as we would have my old friend John Medeski as special guest, joining guitarist Dave “Fuze” Fiuczynski, slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein, drummer Dean Johnston & myself.

Band meal at soba house

Even if the audiences were terrible (which they are most certainly not), it would still be worth the trip just for the food, the description of which results in my getting a far-away look and murmuring my bad Japanese translation again for “amazing”. Seriously, it is THE BEST. We were fortunate to have many sumptuous meals on this trip, starting with our first night, when Taichi and Samii took the exhausted (except for John, who had arrived a day earlier and had played a solo concert that night) band for a late night meal. Do chee so sama! Ok, so much for my lame attempts at Japanese.

Taichi, Samii & the Tokyo posse

In true D’Elf fashion, this particular ensemble had never performed together before the tour, and while it would have been nice to have had the luxury of a bona fide rehearsal before our first show, no such luck.

Steven Bernstein

With musicians like Medeski, Fuze & Bernstein along (not to mention Dux on his first trip to Nippon) you just know its going to be cool regardless, and our “rehearsal” consisted of about 30 min of looking at charts and listening to some tracks in the van on the ride to the first gig in Chiba, and then hours of Bernstein’s infamous joke-telling (ask him to tell you the one about the 2 friends who go camping…), and general band dishing. Trust me: if you are in the unfortunate position of being the tour manager for this bunch, you better be prepared to get your balls busted. I’d much rather wear only the bassist & MD caps, but being the TM as well was small price to pay to have this opportunity to play with such a stellar group.

We were late to the sound check for the show at Kashiwa Drunkard’s Stadium (gotta love that name) due to the bass player forgetting his effects pedals at the hotel (last time he gets asked along) so we had to hit the ground running.

Micro & Yo (production mgr)

Thankfully the technical staff in Japan is like a dream, where whatever you need (um, hair dryer for the sintir skin? check.) is supplied gladly.

Dai, handling it w/ a smile

Bend down to fix an errant pedal, and look up and there’s a guy standing there (smiling!), holding a screw driver and a 9 volt battery. You won’t find that in the USA, trust me. Yass was our sound man for this show & the one in Tokyo, and he was as good as they get – same with Yo, the production manager. Big ups to these guys. Also to Dai, who drove us around and dealt with all of our “requests”. Domo arigato!

WWW, Shibuya, Tokyo 12.18.10

The show the following night at WWW Shibuya in Tokyo, was a much more relaxed situation, especially as the venue was literally a 5 min walk from the Hotel Unizo, where we were staying. Niiiiice. The place had great production and the sound check went very well, with the musicians becoming more comfortable with the music, and starting to really sound like a “band”. Taichi’s wife Samii provided an absolutely astounding all-organic meal of fish and vegetables and rice, all prepared with an attention to detail with a quiet, egoless grace that is commensurate with the Japanese way. There is no better way to prepare for a long night’s playing of trance grooves than having this kind of quality food in your gut. Also, there was sake.

Medeski at the grand piano, WWW Shibuya 12.18.10

One never knows what to expect in terms of who is going to show up to hear a band that plays the kind of music that Club d’Elf does. Face it, we are not your average listening experience, and I’ve had to accept the fact it is perhaps not a mass-market appeal kind of thing. Um, more for a “select” audience. But looking out over the sea of faces at WWW its hard not to feel, ever so fleetingly, that hey, this stuff may catch on!

Audience at WWW, Shibuya 12.18.10

Having the addition of the grand piano for the show, as well as a bona fide Hammond B-3, really helped to make this show something special. Ok, maybe the man who was playing them had something to do with it, too. The band really began to gel this night, and we had a blast blazing through the D’Elf material as well as Fuze’s tune Moon Ring Bacchanal, Bernstein’s Cave Man, and an arrangement of Ornette Coleman‘s Lonely Woman, with Dux on the electronic DXT pad & yours truly on electric bass kalimba, John & Steve floating the haunting melody on top. Samii’s nutritious food and the sake definitely fueled us this evening. Good times.

WWW Shibuya, 12.18.10

The drive to Gunma the following day was a long one, and we got to do our only real sight-seeing of the trip, stopping at the Akagi Mountain jinja (shrine). The tranquil beauty was a welcome respite from the joyous chaos that is Shibuya, which is like Times Square on some crazy Asian crack.

Dux, Medeski, Micro & Bernstein at Akagi Mtn jinja, 12.19.10

The sound of clapping hands occasionally broke the silence, as pilgrims let the gods know that they were there. We arrived at dusk and the place was imbued with a ghostly quality, heightened by fog that was beginning to roll in.

Akagi Mtn jinja, Gunma

We roamed the hillside and took in the ancient stone sculptures and wooden structures in Meditatious D fashion. All too soon we had to roll back into the van for the final leg to the venue in Gunma.

Dux, Medeski & Bernstein at Akagi Mtn jinja

We lost Yo & Yass for this final show and alas the sound and production at the venue (which wasn’t a club but a cement warehouse space used for rave parties) in Gunma was on the bootleg tip, but we soldiered on.

Medeski in his dragon shirt

The sound coming out of the monitors was…interesting, (what…snare drum?!), but its the sort of thing that as seasoned musicians you just have to deal with and not get all diva-like. That being said, it was a bit of a disappointment to end on that note, instead of the show in Tokyo.

WWW Shibuya, 12.18.10

One thing that was very cool about Gunma: the band was all staying in a traditional Japanese inn that had a real onsen, which we took good advantage of. We bathed before the gig, after the gig (open 24 hours!) and again in the morning. I may be wrong, but seeing everyone’s junk before you play together helps to create a more, um intimate quality to the music. But maybe that’s just me.

The Dux

Much too quickly the tour ended, just when we were getting warmed up! Next time longer, hopefully. There really wasn’t time to reflect on how cool an experience this was until after it was over, and I am most thankful for the amazing music that my sound ninja friends Medeski, Fiuczynski, Bernstein & Johnston shared with me over the course of those 4 days in Japan.

Fuze on his doubleneck

One thing that really struck me during this trip was the quality of the audience in Japan. I have noticed at shows back home of late that there is a disturbing lack of concentration and focus amongst audiences, with way too many people more concerned about their devices than actually committing to the performance and really living in the moment.

Micro making jazz face

Call me an old fart, but thats the way I see it. One might expect to see even more of that sort of thing in Japan, what with the love of gadgets and all the new shit coming out there first.. And sure, everyone has an iPhone and is technologically equipped, but they don’t lose focus. They participate in a way that as a performer, is really inspiring. Domo arigato to you, Japan. We will be back.

An Appreciation of Hassan Hakmoun

•November 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Micro & Hassan in NYC circa 2004 (or was it 2005?)

An Appreciation of Hassan Hakmoun (as appeared in Dec ’06/Jan ’07 State Of Mind magazine)

I had heard some of Hassan Hakmoun‘s music in the mid-90’s, courtesy of a Boston world music radio show which played a few tracks off of his ’93 release Trance, but it wasn’t until my late friend Mark Sandman played me Gift Of The Gnawa, that I was truly smitten by his sound. North African music, and particularly the music of the Gnawa (Gnaoua), the mystical sufi brotherhood who were brought to Morocco as slaves from sub-Saharan Africa 500 years ago, was already something that resonated considerably with me. Being a bass player, I was drawn to the sound of the sintir (also known as guembri, or hajhouj), the 3 gut-stringed bass lute that is central to the music of the Gnawa. I had been listening to the Bill Laswell produced album Night Spirit Masters and unidentified cassettes with other Gnawa music for a few years by then, but something in Hassan’s playing and singing drew me in that day like few things in my life had before. I insisted that Mark let me borrow the CD, and reluctantly he agreed, though only with my promise that I would return it immediately upon his return from the upcoming Morphine tour. I took it home, had a smoke, and laid on the couch for hours as I played it over, and over, and over again, absolutely mesmerized. I made a vow that day that I would someday find a sintir and learn to play it, and would make it my life’s goal to endeavor to make music like this – music that transcended time and space, music that was tapped into something much greater than merely the person playing it, and that had a mystical quality with the power to heal. I also began a love affair with the music of Hassan Hakmoun.

Generally speaking, in Gnawa music the sintir is the main instrument and is accompanied by the metal castanets called qarakeb. The ma’aleem sings the lead and plays the sintir, joined by a chorus of response singers and clappers. One of the things that made this CD stand out from the other Gnawa music that I had heard was that drums (tablas & congas played by Adam Rudolph) were featured, and the interplay with Hassan’s sintir was some of the coolest shit ever, at times being difficult to tell who was doing what. In addition to strumming the strings, the sintir is slapped like a drum when played, the top of the instrument being made of camel skin. The way that Hassan and Adam played off of each other had me saying “Damn!” again and again. Don Cherry played pocket
trumpet on a couple of tracks and Richard Horowitz played the ney on a couple of others. Together with the sound of Hassan’s amazing voice the effect was nothing short of hypnotic, simultaneously sounding both incredibly modern and timeless.

Over time I sought out all of the music I could find of his. Though all of it is worth checking out, I was drawn to the music closest to the tradition which was mostly acoustic in nature, especially his CDs Life Around The World and The Fire Within. Eventually I met and became friends with Hassan’s bandmate, Brahim Fribgane, the great oud player and percussionist, and he began to play with my band Club d’Elf. Through working with Brahim and hanging out with him and his friends at places like Moroccan Bazaar in Cambridge (sadly, now gone) & Gates Of Marrakech in NYC, I furthered my immersion in the sublime music of Morocco, and at last got to meet Hassan himself. I had acquired a sintir of my own by this time, and Hassan was very gracious in offering some tips and help, though I was never able to muster the courage to ask for a formal lesson. Learning music in the western sense of “taking a lesson” seems foreign to this music, which is passed on mostly through oral tradition. What I learned came from Brahim (who was as close to a teacher as I got), and from drinking tea & hanging out with Hassan and the other Moroccans, who were about the easiest-to-hang with people as one could hope to meet, taking a delight in the finer things in life that was most infectious.

Every chance I get to see Hassan play is a reminder of how great music can be when the performer gives his or herself up to some greater power, and I have witnessed people go into trances even in the club atmospheres where I have seen him play. Experiencing him playing for an all-night Lila ceremony in Morocco… THAT is something I hope to see before I leave this earth, in’shallah.


Micro’s Monster Movie MMMentions

•October 15, 2010 • Leave a Comment

upon request, and in time for hallowe’en, here is a reprint of my listing of favorite horror movies, with an update at the end…

i am, as anyone who knows me will attest to, a bit of a horror movie aficionado. i love ’em all: cheesy, classic, gory, leave-it-to-the-imagination, new, old, big budget, low budget…bring ’em on. not too much into bland slasher flicks, and the eli roth/new school of “torture porn” leaves me feeling kind of dirty and sullied, but everything else is pretty much right up my strasse. here are some suggestions for you to consider here at hallowe’en time:

Donnie Darko (2001) – a no brainer. if you haven’t seen it already, make sure you look for the original, NON-director’s cut. trust us on this. this is one of my all-time favorite movies, and i will watch it again and again. and again.

The Descent (2005)- UK film directed by neil marshall who also did a good werewolf movie called Dog Soldiers. the descent slayed me. saw it first in the theater with the original US ending (not so good), and then later on dvd w/ the original UK ending (much creepier). plays on archetypal fears of darkness, being trapped in confined spaces, and being consumed by cannibalistic, cave-dwelling, humaniod creatures. 6 buff, outdoorsy women go spelunking in an unchartered cave, and these ladies are no bimbos, but rather kick-ass climbers with great personalities. so when things begin to go wrong (and they go VERY wrong), you really feel for them. gives me chills just thinking about it.

Night Of The Demon (1957) – also known as Curse Of the Demon. features a totally non-cheesy monster for the time, and a great story about an aleister crowley-type black magician who conjures up a demon to smite his critics, and as someone who also has to deal with “critics”, i must admit i wish i could do the same sometimes. watch this one and then check out our track Hungry Ghosts from NIU. hmmmm…

The Evil Dead (1981) – an old favorite. sam raimi’s first, done w/ some help by the coen brothers. low, low budget but oh-so good. what happens when some young kids rent a cottage in the woods, find a dusty copy of the necronomicon along with a taped translation, and raise ancient evil from the woods. it’s hard when your girlfriend becomes a pencil-wielding ghoul and you have to dismember her. great claymation effects and the awesome talents of bruce campbell. if you’re in the boston area check out the latest The Dig for a hilarious rant by a disgruntled movie-goer who had to contend with some drunken frat boys at a recent showing at the coolidge corner moviehouse.

The Dunwich Horror (1970) – based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft, and we love us some HPL. pretty bad movie, but has nostalgic value for your humble narrator, as i first saw it on a hallowe’en night when i was about 10, and was enthralled by the psychedelic effects used to represent yog sothoth, the eater-of-souls, he your basic invisible space god. also the sight of bare female breasts in the orgy scenes was quite a treat for a young lad, and must have escaped the fun-killing eyes of the censors. plus it has dean stockwell totally over the top in the lead role as wilbur whately. nice.

Equinox (1970) – another blast from the past, first seen around the same time as the dunwich horror, and with a plot similar to the evil dead: bunch of kids in the woods find a copy of the necronomicon and – you guessed it – call forth nameless forces of ancient evil. features frank bonner from wkrp cincinnati and has some great stop-motion effects, ala ray harryhausen. for some reason this movie just really scared me, and my sister, too.

Dawn Of The Dead (1978) – forget the remake. the original is unbeatable for mood and social commentary and – for the time – good gore effects, c/o tom savini, who also plays a cycle gang member. also stars ken foree who we loved in From The Beyond (am i geeking out here or what?). directed by the great george romero and filmed -as were/are all of his films – in pittsburgh. will never get that shot of the zombie husband taking a chomp out of his wife’s arm out of my head…oooh, that HAD to hurt.

The Funhouse (1981) – i can’t quite explain why this movie has become fodder for my nightmares, but the mutant geek who terrorizes the lovely elizabeth berridge and her 3 friends after hours in a carnival funhouse just shows up quite frequently in my dreams and scares the sh*t out of me. dude, this monster will freak you out, i am so serious.

The Tingler (1959) – starring vincent price as a doctor doing studies in fear, and includes possibly the earliest cinematic portrayal of an acid trip! william castle directed, and coming from vaudeville as he did every picture had to have a gimmick. the gimmick for this one? Percepto: certain seats in theaters would be wired to give an electrical charge to the unwitting patron, eliciting shrieks of pain! ah, the glory days of pre-osha. this movie inspired 2 club d’elf tunes!

Freaks (1932) – what can one say about this classic? it was diane arbus’s favorite movie. it features REAL circus freaks and totally was too much for people at the time, who could not handle physically deformed actors being used. it’s still too much for some folks. tod browning directed this a year after he did Dracula w/ bela Lugosi. he died the month and year i was born and i have often wondered if his soul found it’s way into my body. gooba gabba, one of us, one of us!

and speaking of Dracula (1931), you can’t go wrong with those old Universal flicks, esp. Son Of Frankenstein (1938). so put some of these on your netflix queue and add some new twists to your nightmares.

Dark Ride (2006) – this one i watched on the recommendation of erik kerr, which is so awesome…christian minister who loves extreme horror movies. gotta love it, and him. it features Jamie-Lynn Sigler from the Sopranos (no…she doesn’t get naked). it was exactly the way he said it would be. the scene where the psycho killer in the mental hospital puts his fist – holding a flashlight – through the chest of one of his captors, allowing the horrified face of his friend to be viewed from the gaping cavity…wow. that’s some quality film-making right there. this would make a good double bill with The Funhouse, which the astute reader might recall was one of our recommendations last year. that one…i don’t know…it just really freaked me out and has found it’s way into me nightmares, har.

also burrowing into my head and taking up residence in nightmare land are rob zombies pair of horror offerings, House of 1000 Corpses (2003) & The Devil’s Rejects (2005). both are flawed but damn if that family of cannibalistic rednecks hasn’t shown up in my dreams more times than i would care to have them. sid haig is one of the greats of B movies, having of course starred in one of our all-time weird movie faves, Spider Baby (1968), and in both he portrays the lecherous and murderous clown, captain spaulding. don’t get me started on clowns. thanks to mister rourke for riding my case until i finally sat down and watched ’em.

Suspiria (1977) – written and directed by Dario Argento. i watched this one quite a bit a few years ago when hanging out with john medeski & scotty hard at shacklyn, playing on their suspiria project. rats running around the place only helped to make the atmosphere more appropriate. the soundtrack is by argento’s band Goblin, who we happen to pay tribute to with a track from Perhapsody called Goblin Garden, which you can hear on our myspace. also, i forgot to mention one of the best scenes from Freaks: there’s a guy called prince randi, who is only a torso – no arms, no legs. grizzled popeye-type face, and at one point he rolls, lights, and smokes a cigarette, all without the use of any limbs, just his mouth! it’s NUTS! watch it!

though i haven’t yet seen the US remake, the original swedish Let The Right One In (2008) is one of the creepiest and original vampire movies i have ever seen. wow, it gives me shivers just thinking of the lighting in the woods as the hiker is hoisted up for draining…wow.

one of the scariest things i ever saw as a young ‘un was the original 1973 Don’t Be Afraid Of the Dark w/ Kim Darby. The recent remake produced by my hero, Guillermo Del Toro, is worth watching even if it didn’t scare the shit out of me the way the original did, but then again maybe when the way-back machine is working i’ll watch it as a kid and judge it then.

happy hallowe’en ya’ll!

-monster micro