Dead Moms Club

•May 27, 2010 • 3 Comments

Elizabeth Jean Rivard

I wrote this homage to my mother a month ago and decided not to post it, as it seemed a bit too personal and I’m not a wear-his-heart-on-his-sleeve kind of guy. Then today in the course of sorting and packing up D’Elf HQ in prep for a move across the river, I found amongst the myriad of accumulations of a pack-rat musician (who has seen the error of his ways and is cured, praise god – CURED!) a ticket stub for the event i went to the night of her death on Sat 3/31/90 – “Jazz, Culture and the Cosmos: A Lecture By Sun Ra“. I took it as a sign, and on top of this feeling that’s been mounting of late, a feeling of sober and somewhat world-weary sadness, brought about in part by news of the havoc the Gulf oil spill is creating on the environment and the incomprehensible inability to deal with it effectively; not to mention the Tennessee floods which caused so many musicians to lose their precious instruments…well, I decided to post it. I don’t flatter myself that many read this anyway, so for the few who do here is the story…

The human capacity for learning to live with loss and somehow get on with one’s life was on my mind this past Earth Day, which also happens to be my mother Elizabeth’s birthday. The 20th anniversary of her death passed recently and she had been in my thoughts much of late, not surprisingly. What better way to honor both her memory and the spirit of the day than a trip to the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain? I loaded my upright bass into the car and, aware of the irony of the carbon footprint I was leaving by driving, and hoping to compensate for it by playing some pretty music for the birds and the bees, I headed out.

Micro at The Spot, 2000/2001? Photo by Francesca

There is a spot I have been going to for 10 years now in the Peter’s Hill section of the Arboretum. A little secluded meadow which has become, in warmer weather, my private practice space. Thanks to climate change, my visits there start earlier in the season, and last year went into November after which it was too cold to bring the bass out. The weather this day – April 22 – was fickle, with the sun playing hide and seek behind the clouds and thunderstorms imminent. It’s a great pleasure of mine to witness the changes that occur in this little spot over the course of the season and on a larger scale over the course of years I have gone there. Watching the buds form and bloom and eventually die, and the cyclical nature of the migratory cycles of the various birds that come and go. Last year several Baltimore orioles hung out about a week or so transfixing me with their beautiful song. I tried to emulate it and eventually got pretty close so that I convinced myself that I was in musical dialogue with the birds. You never know.

Micro and bass at The Spot, May 2010. Photo by Ted Bradford

Mostly my time there is private and uninterrupted, as it’s off the beaten path. Occasionally a hiker or someone walking their dog will come by, and a photo student named Francesca stumbled upon me there, and me and my bass became the subject of her school project. Most recently a guy named Ted came by taking pictures of the many birds who frequent the spot, and we had a nice talk about the birds he had seen recently. My mother was an avid ornothologist and would have loved this place, I’m sure. I improvised a little song for her and practiced for about 45 minutes or so before the first drops of rain were felt. Packing up the bass I stowed it in the car and headed for the lilacs, another of her favorite things. The Arnold Arboretum is, of course, renowned for its lilac collection and on this weekday afternoon with darkening skies and ominous thunder in the distance, I had the place pretty much to myself.

I sat under a tree on the hill above lilac row and watched lightning crackling in the heavens while a male cardinal settled in the bushes nearby. Elizabeth’s favorite bird, and a clear sign that she was there with me. The rain started to fall harder then, feeling so good on my skin as I lay there in the grass missing her. And then the clouds in the sky behind me parted and brilliant rays of the sun cut through while the sky in front was as dark as a stormy sea. The light took on that quality of luminescence where everything is bathed in an otherworldly glow and remained that way for what seemed an eternity but was actually minutes. The closest I can describe it is it feels like you have woken up in a dream, just one of those perfect moments where all is still and time ceases. It was so heart achingly beautiful tears streamed down my face and I gave thanks for this opportunity to connect with her, and to feel her presence so strongly.

As I walked back through the empty park to my car I thought of my friends and collaborators in Club d’Elf who have lost parents in the last year or so. Erik Kerr’s mom most recently, Brahim Fribgane’s father, Mat Maneri’s father Joe who was the elder statesman of d’Elf. In the sort of gallows humor that musicians of our ilk tend towards, I have laughed about shared membership in the Dead Moms Club with Tronzo, Reeves and Paul Schultheis, all of whom have lost their mothers in recent years. Wry jokes somehow make the pain more bearable, with laughter more preferable than its alternative.

I thought of my broheems and hoped that they all find ways to connect with their dead parents the way that I have been fortunate to with Elizabeth. She made it easy for me with her love of birds and nature, for merely by going outside I can feel her. It has brought me comfort to do so and I hoped for that comfort to be theirs as well.

I also came away from that special afternoon with a renewed commitment to the Club d’Elf studio project that had become bogged down for various reasons and had led to a dark period of my feeling I could never get it out. I inherited from my Mother and her Celtic heritage not only a sensitive, artistic sensibility and appreciation for the odd, the strange & the weird – “the other”, but also a predilection towards perfectionism and “the blues”. Having spent years and countless hours on this recording, not to mention more money than i could hope to recoup, and having already finished the “music” part, I still found myself unable to bring it to fruition. The lack of anything to show for my efforts – not to mention the stasis it created for the band by not having anything “new” to show to the world and to be attractive to promoters & the folks in the biz, had really put me into a funk, and not the Bootsy variety. I needed to finish this for many reasons, not the least of which being that it would be fitting to honor our parents with the music created by those they brought into the world. Thanks in part to generous donations from several fans, and a grant from the Iguana Music Fund, as well as my having made some money from a recent gig in the Broadway show world, it seems that it can be a reality. Dos will be dedicated to them, and actually now has a release date: Oct 19, 2010.

Learning to fly in Tiznit

•March 10, 2010 • 2 Comments

Berber musicians outside of Tiznit, Dec '09

Dreams have always been an obsession of mine, and my “dream” has always been to go to Morocco. It’s not surprising then that my first night in Morocco I had an amazing dream, one for the ages really. A lucid dream, and one of the most powerful I’ve had. From my journal of 12/18/09:

… tiled patio, very elfin. I wander off by myself and a voice tells me, “you are dreaming”. Awake within the dream I waste no time and immediately try to fly. Jumping into the air I kind of stick there, as if suspended in some kind of thick matter. Using my arms in a swimming fashion to take me higher, I have to fight at first as if gravity were slowly giving way but not without a struggle. I swim laboriously through the air but gradually get my dream wings on and slowly gather speed. I fly to the treetops, aware that I have limited time before I lose my lucidity, so I have to strike while the iron is hot.

I am aware that I have been afforded the chance to view all of Morocco, or as much as I can before I lose hold of the lucidity. I head up toward the clouds, exhilarated to be able to do this. Amazing and splendid vistas of mountains and deserts and tiled buildings greet my eyes as I fly fast and far, the whole country laid out before me for my eyes to feast upon. It’s all coming at me so fast – vivid and colorful and intense and rushing into my cerebral cortex at a speed that is impossible to process. Like a video game that expires when the coin runs out, at last everything begins to wind down and my thoughts are, “I am losing it – it is going away!” That sad feeling of the circus leaving town pervades me, but passes and is replaced by a deep gratefulness. Choukran!

Orientation meeting at Tiznit Cultural Center, 12/19/09 w/ Mayor Joe Curtatone & the Governor of Tiznit

Thanks to an appearance I made on SCAT TV where I played sintir and spoke of my connection to Moroccan music, I received a scholarship through the kind auspices of Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone’s office. Big up to Janice, his assistant, who pulled some strings for me. Along with about 25 other participants in the University of the Middle East’s CPLI program I went to Tiznit, Morocco in mid-December. I would represent the musical side of the delegation and work with some local musicians, which I greatly anticipated.

Typical architecture outside of Tiznit, Dec '09

After arriving I soon learned how challenging it would be to move this Leviathan of a group around from point to point, difficult enough with 40-50 people (when joined by the Moroccan participants) and made especially tricky by that pervasive aspect of “Moroccan time”. It was a fine bunch of folks, however, and for the most part everyone handled the constant delays with humor and aplomb. The phrase that one hears repeated a thousand times a day is “in’shallah” or “if God wills it”. This is a very important philosophy to grasp in order to understand life in Morocco. It can be used as an excuse for “maybe I’ll show up, maybe not”, an aspect that pissed off Omar, who was the one Moroccan in the Somerville office of the UME. For the most part, though, it conveyed a sense of submitting to forces greater than oneself and accepting whatever happens as being part of a Divine Plan that doesn’t always take into consideration our petty human desires and concerns.

Blue door, Tiznit, Dec '09

After a travel day of more than 24 hours we were treated to the first of what would become de rigueur huge feasts, most lasting three hours or more. There was no such thing as a “quick bite”. Unfortunately, the luggage of “Mr. The Mayor” (as he would good-naturedly be referred to, poking gentle fun at his interpreter) didn’t make it. Word had preceded our arrival at the hotel and a new suit was made for him, the first example of the royal treatment that he and the whole group would receive. Police escort, anyone?

Woman's Cooperative giving workshop on making Argan Oil, Tiznit, Dec '09

Tiznit has a population of about 54,000 and is an old, walled medina town south of the Souss Valley and beyond the western end of the Anti-Atlas. I had been hearing about this town, sister city of Somerville, through my friends Ahmed and Latifa who live in Cambridge. They connected me with relatives in Tiznit who would prove shining examples of Moroccan hospitality.

Visiting a local artist's studio in Tiznit, Dec '09

The Hotel Idou Tiznit would be our home away from home for the week and it was quite lovely. The days began early and ended late, and sleep was sacrificed in pursuit of fitting everything in. The purpose of the trip was to establish cultural and civic bonds between the cities and to share experiences unique to each. To this end we visited schools and other sites, and as part of the artist group (along with Cynthia, David and Pauline, three visual artists from Brickbottom Studios) I visited artists’ studios and took part in the creation of a mural with some young students, one of whom spied my sintir and ended up rocking it for a long time, quite the aspiring maalem, he.

Spontaneous sintir jam at high school site visit in Tiznit, Dec '09

I was partnered with a couple of teachers who also happened to be musicians – Idris and Brahim. Both were the warmest, hippest, and most generous cats you could hope to meet. And funny. I count amongst my favorite times the late-night hangs that Idris organized, when we headed deep into the medina for smoky jams in the tiny studio of his artist friend. Everyone was very supportive and encouraging of this white guy from Boston who played the guimbri. It was kind of strange to be playing this indigenous instrument that I had spent countless hours attempting to master back in the US – now in Morocco, playing it for people whom you can’t fool. My education had stepped up to the next level… (to be continued)

Mural project at Tiznit high school, Dec '09

Tea With the Maalam

•January 12, 2010 • 2 Comments

Micro & Maalam Mahmoud Guinea

I’ve long suspected that Time didn’t necessarily have to move only in the linear, euclidian fashion that defines most of what passes for “reality”, especially in the West. Some would accuse me of using this as excuse for often being tardy, and maybe they are not incorrect. Now I will merely claim that I picked up a time virus while in Morocco. In Africa one is definitely confronted by a different sense of Time – one that certainly moves at a different rate than what i am accustomed to in the US. Giving into it is essential.

Majid & Mahmoud Guinea, Essaouira 12.23.09

In that spirit i will begin with the end of my trip to Morocco, a trip that was a very long time coming.Thanks to a grant i was able to travel there this past Dec with the University of the Middle East as part of their Civic Participation and Leadership Initiative. Fast forward to the end of that portion (stay tuned for next time when time rolls back around to the beginning) of the trip when i boarded a bus to Essaouira, on my own for the first time in Morocco and with dreams of meeting the Maalam.

Essaouira under water, 12/24/09

People were always surprised when they discovered that i had not yet to Morocco, since i was ALL about it, and most assumed i had been. I had been obsessed with that magical country for many years and most recently i had been teaching myself to play the sintir, but i knew deep inside that something was missing which i wouldn’t find until i went there. There was an authenticity to what i was doing that i knew would not manifest until i breathed the air and stood on the soil there – interacting with the people, eating the food (and maybe getting sick and shitting my guts out), and experiencing the raw flow of energy and life that one can’t get from a hyper-link. Playing the sintir, one of my main interests is Gnawa music, where the instrument is mainly used. A few sites on Gnawa that are worth checking out include this one with a historical background of Gnawa, and another one called CyberGnawas, though this guy seems to have an agenda and i’m not sure i agree with everything he says.

Majid, Micro & Mahmoud

When i learned that a friend was going to be visiting in Essaouira during my visit, AND he was friends with Maalam Mahmoud Guinea and might be able to arrange a visit…i don’t know, i was like a kid contemplating x-mas. What amazing fortune! Mahmoud has been THE cat that i’ve been checking out for years, ever since first getting this tape .It would be a good idea to click on that and scroll down to Saturday, April 12, 2008 for the Guinea recording. Download and read on. A note on spellings…they change a lot. I’ve seen his name spelled Ghania, Guinia (wikipedia), Ghanya, Khania, but the most accurate one seems to be Guinea. Same for “maalam” (which means “master”)…sometimes spelled mallem, or malam. Whatever – we have to get over these hang-ups on details, but it does often get aggravating when trying to locate stuff online.

Majid & Micro in Essaouira

Majid met me at the CTM bus station after the 3 hour trip from Agadir that turned into 4 hours (again, that Time thing) and almost as soon as i landed he whisked me off to the home of the Maalam. I had not slept more than 3 hours a night for the past week, so things were decidedly dream-like at this point. Mahmoud greeted us warmly and soon we were seated in his living room, drinking tea and enjoying a smoke. I had brought a few gifts for him, including a Club d’Elf CD, and we spoke to each through the medium of translator Majid, who i seriously am indebted to. I was like that kid at x-mas, now presented with one of his all-time heroes, and it was all i could do not to just smile like an idiot the whole time! He was holding the new sintir that he had recently made, one which Majid had told me he might sell to me.

Mahmoud Guinea and sintir

He played for us while we tapped out the krakeb rhythm on thighs and table, and Mahmoud’s son and Majid sang along. What can i say? I was in bliss! This was it, this was what i had dreamed about happening, and i felt like the luckiest man in the world. For now i could watch from a foot away while the maalam played, and all of the things the hands of a master did while playing the sintir (which i could only imagine while listening to recordings at home and trying to recreate) were now visible to me. This was as close to a formal lesson as i had had, and i wasn’t about to let this chance slip away.

I asked stupid questions, and he responded kindly, and was gracious enough to stop and show me things and even slow passages down a little as well. The left hand is not as big as mystery to me, but what the right one does – THAT’S what is so difficult to discern. Where the slaps occur, and is it the fingers or the thumb? He showed us a song which i have been working on since i returned home, and if all goes well at rehearsal tomorrow night, will play with the band on the Lizard Lounge show Thursday.

The sound of rain dripping from a hole in the roof into the foyer served as constant background for the Gnawa songs that Mahmoud played and which i attempted to absorb as best i could. His daughter was present when we first arrived, and his son came and went, but for the most part it was just myself, Majid and the Maalam for the whole afternoon, which will definitely go down as one of the best i have spent in this lifetime. Majid had recently got an iPhone app for call to prayers, and we were delighted to find that it was in the same key as the sintir Mahmoud was playing!

We agreed on a price for the sintir (one that i found most reasonable considering the obvious time he had put into it – it is much more ornate than my current one, with shell and wood inlays on the back and neck, and a lovely henna design on the camel skin top…can you tell i am smitten with it? It is beautiful!) and then Majid and i left to drop my things off at the apartment he was renting with his wife and daughter. We took a stroll through the ramparts and historic parts of the medina, which would be the only sight-seeing i would get during my brief, 24 hour stay. The rain was relentless and the wind howled the whole time, and i thought of Orson Welles filming Othello here over 60 years ago, and of Hendrix hanging out (one is constantly reminded of his visit…every restaurant has a photo and claiming to be a place he frequented).

Micro gets a new sintir, made by Maalam Mahmoud Guinea

Micro in the rain, Essaouira 12.23.09

Later that evening we returned to Mahmoud’s home and finalized the deal for the sintir. More tea, and more music. I remembered to bring my video camera this time and asked sheepishly if he would play some more. I have to say, he was as sweet a man as i could have hoped to meet, which is a pretty cool thing when meeting your heroes, for they are not all as such. I shot from various angles, and for any aspiring sintir players out there, i recommend studying these vids. I haven’t been able to come across anything on youtube quite as helpful. Listen to the sound he gets! Damn…i don’t know if i will ever get a sound quite like that, and only hope that this sintir will not constantly wish to be back with it’s maker and maalam!

I offered to take Mahmoud out for dinner so the three of us went out to the Restaurant du Port Chez Sam, which had a mighty fine paella, i have to say. Mahmoud is treated like royalty in the town, and all the wait staff wanted to have their picture taken with him. While the wind howled outside and ships rocked violently in their moorings on the other side of the window, i listened to Majid and Mahmoud talk, catching a little bit now and again amidst the combination of Moroccan Arabic and French. Every now and then i would ask for something to be translated, but for the most part i was content to bathe in the presence of a true master, the Maalam.

That’s enough for now. To end this i’d like to share one of the best videos i found of Mahmoud on youtube. Most of the stuff is just audio with a still pic, or poorly-shot audience vids, but this is from a TV shoot and pretty high-quality. Not long enough, but then again what is Time?



Brahim Runs The Chaabi Down

•December 4, 2009 • 1 Comment

Brahim is the first guy who hipped me to what the chaabi rhythm was all about. Without the aid of notation software it’s hard to give a visual representation of what it is, but you can think of it this way:

Brahim in Truro, MA Oct '04

Think of a bar of 12/8, meaning there are 12 eighth notes to the bar. Now divide that 12 into 4 groups of 3 notes. Imagine someone clapping on the first beat of each group of 3, four to a bar so we will end up with claps on 1, 4, 7 & 10. Now imagine the 3rd note of the group of 12 gets a high pitch (call it “tick”). Same with beat 8, another “tick”. Beats 5 & 11 get a low pitch – call it “dum”. Or “doom” if you prefer. Notice that NONE of these falls on any of the strong beats – 1, 4, 7 or 10. Now take away those downbeats and it gets interesting. The western brain (at least mine) when first presented with this rhythm without the aid of the clapped downbeats hears the low pitched accents – the “dooms” – as downbeats. Only they’re not. Thus you have the mystery of the Moroccan chaabi, which translates roughly as “popular” (there’s a whole style of music called Chaabi), which for me was like being introduced into a secret society, and i’ve always been interested in secret societies, going way back to reading Robert Anton Wilson‘s Illuminatus Trilogy. Unless you have a Moroccan around to provide the missing downbeats you’re floating in space, dude. But when the secret handshake is performed and you begin to hear what the rhythm actually is…aha, we have a whole new smoke, my ba-rutha.

We recorded a live track at a Lizard Lounge show in May of ’08 which based on this rhythm, and is part of our upcoming release Electric MoroccoLand (due late winter 2010). It was an improv (now titled Brahim Runs The Chaabi Down), and as with most of the stuff Club d’Elf does, it doesn’t adhere too formally to any one thing, so it’s not strictly a chaabi. But you can hear it in the accents that Dean plays on drums and Brahim on cajon, as well in the bass, which btw has alligator clips attached to the strings, giving it that weird, percussive sound. To hear this track go to our Myspace profile, which is probably the first time you’ve gone onto Myspace in awhile, we know. But that’s where you’ll have to go for now until I get the upgrade from WordPress and can upload mp3s here.

D'Elf w/ Vicente Lebron, Dave Fiuczynski & Micro at Lizard Lounge

Ahmed, Brahim, Aziz, Latifa & Micro in Truro, Oct '04

More fun with Moroccan music to come, as I prepare for my trip to Morocco, and then a lot more once I’m there and back. Choukran to my Moroccan peeps for opening me up to this mind-meltingly wonderful and sensual world of rhythm.



Going to Morocco…in search of The One

•November 28, 2009 • 1 Comment
Micro on sintir

Micro on sintir @ Lizard Lounge

Brahim in Truro, MA 10/04

Micro & Hassan in NYC circa '04?

It’s been a looooong time coming, but I am finally going to Morocco. I still can’t quite believe it’s going to happen, and won’t really believe it until I step foot on Moroccan soil. I know that’s just my dark, can’t-get-too-exited-about-things side, and it’s tempered by my giddy, can’t-believe-my-good-fortune-holy-fucking-shit! side. This will be the culmination of a long love affair between me and this magical country that has its roots in hanging out with Mark Sandman at his Norfolk St loft (Hi-N-Dry mach 2) in the mid-90s and listening to Hassan Hakmoun‘s Gift Of The Gnawa while sharing a smoke. We marveled at the sound of the sintir, a 3-stringed bass lute with a camel-skin top that Mr Hakmoun was literally spanking the shit out of…wow. These roots deepened considerably several years later in ’99 when I met and became friends with Brahim Fribgane, an incredible oud player and percussionist who was living in NYC at the time but originally came from Casablanca.

Brahim moved to Boston and joined Club d’Elf and became my roommate. With his tutelage I began to learn the intricacies of Moroccan music, which involved he and I sitting in my car on long drives to gigs or rehearsals and listening to cassettes of Berber and Gnawa music and me trying to find where “the one” was. In much Moroccan music there is no “one”, the place of emphasis where in Western music we begin counting the rhythm. “The one” is usually accented or emphasized in some way, but in Moroccan rhythms such as the chaabi the accent is on an upbeat and if listened to with Western ears such as mine, this upbeat becomes “the one”, only it ain’t. With Brahim’s patient help I would continually clap where I felt the beat, and he would invariably laugh and clap the true “one”, which was an eighth note or two away from mine. It was maddening, but I was so into it that I just kept at it, over and over, and began a process of self-brainwashing, where I would intellectually “know” where “the one” should be, and would clap that, fighting against the pull of where I was actually hearing it. At last it was like the aural equivalent of the visual phenomena of letting your eyes go out of focus while looking at something until it takes on a 3-D quality. When this happened, it was…a-mazing. Everything became clear in that instant, only to be lost soon again. Like long-distance running I just kept at it until I could go for longer stretches without losing “the one”. I don’t know how Brahim restrained himself from strangling me…I would not have been so relaxed if I were him.

For several years from about ’00 to 03 I hung out with Brahim at his friend Abder’s store in North Cambridge called Moroccan Bazaar, now sadly gone. We would sit and drink tea and play and listen to music til all hours with all the Moroccans who would come by, as the store’s basement was a favorite after hours spot. I finally acquired a sintir when Abder, brought one back for me from a trip to Morocco to purchase merchandise for the store. With tips from Brahim and the Gnawa musicians who I met through him (including my hero Hassan Hakmoun) I set about learning to play this profound instrument, and began to incorporate it into the music that Club d’Elf was playing, which increasingly was becoming more and more influenced by Moroccan sources.

Flash forward to several months ago when I first learned of an organization called the University of the Middle East, which as it turns out in kind of a weird synchronicity, is located in the Armory in Somerville, the home of Hi-N-Dry and The Mark Sandman Music Project. Puzzling evidence. The UME are an NGO who are seeking to create links between cultures, and to that end had initiated a sister city program between Somerville, MA and Tiznit, Morocco. A delegation of people from Somerville, lead by Mayor Curtatone was going to Morocco and were accepting applications from teachers, educators, artists & musicians. Naturally I applied, and to my delight I was eventually accepted, but the cost of the trip was going to be too prohibitive for me to go. Oh well. They seemed confident that some grants might come through and asked me in the meantime to appear with them on a local cable public access show where they would discuss the trip. I would speak about my connection to Moroccan music and play a little sintir. Ok, I said. Well, the powers that be apparently saw the show and were impressed and a few days later I was notified that funding for me to go had been received. I…would…go…to…Morocco.

I’ll fill in more of the details in posts to come, as well as more of the back story. Gotta get ready for a gig tonight, so this will have to do for now.

Keeping it on the “and of one”



P.S. This documentary on Sandman looks very promising. Watch the longer trailer on Vimeo…so cool to see the home movies of him as kid….

8.14.09 Lizard D'Elf

8.14.09 Lizard D'Elf w/ (L to R) Vicente Lebron, Paul Schulthies, Mike Rivard, Mister Rourke, Randy Roos & Dean Johnston

what’s new

•October 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The elves have been hard at work on the studio follow-up to Now I Understand. Slated for an early 2010 release is Dos, a double-CD comprising two distinct albums: Electric Moroccoland and So Below. Mastering took place in late August with Michael Fossenkemper at Turtle Tone Studios in NYC and artwork and packaging are currently being completed. Teaser medleys of snippets of tracks from both albums is being offered as a sneak preview: Electric MoroccoLand

So Below:

Club Cover art is being created by Doug Sirois ( who did the stunning work for Now I Understand. A.Minor ( is creating the logo for our new label, Face Pelt. She also created a stunning Limited Edition 11th Anniversary Poster autographed by the band. This is an extremely limited edition run of only 70 prints, each signed by the artist A.Minor and the following musicians:

Micro Vard (Mike Rivard), John Medeski, Erik Kerr, Brahim Fribgane, Mister Rourke, The Dux (Dean Johnston), Dave Tronzo, Randy Roos, Paul Schultheis, Tom Hall, Jerry Leake, Mat Maneri, Duke Levine, Fuze (David Fiuczynski), Geoff Scott, Alain Mallet, Matt Kilmer, Vicente Lebron & Danny Blume.

Proceeds from sales go towards completion funds for Dos.

D’Elf plays visionary artist Alex Grey’s new Chapel of Sacred Mirrors Art Sanctuary in upstate NY on Hallowe’en, and as anyone familiar with the band knows, D’Elf is ALL about Hallowe’en! This should be a most memorable evening and details can be found on the Shows page

Leader Mike Rivard has been honing his skills on the Moroccan sintir, and recently posted a couple of videos on Youtube:

Shipibo Sintir

Candlelit Sintir in David Lynch Room

-micro (updated 10/22/09)

Goodbye Poppa Joe (First Movement)

•August 28, 2009 • 4 Comments

Micro, Erik Kerr & Joe, Framingham, MA

I first met Joseph Gabriel Ester Maneri in the late ’80s when his son Mat began playing with the world jazz group Natraj, with whom I was playing bass. Joe was like no one I had ever met before, or since for that matter. I had always been attracted to musical mavericks and lunatics – people like Harry Partch and Don Van Vliet aka Captian Beefheart – and Joe was the closest I had come to such genius and raw, create-your-own-world-from-scratch originality. Plus he looked like the snowman from Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer and was about as jolly and life-affirming an individual as one could hope to meet.

I became one of the moths who were attracted to Joe’s ever-burning flame and began to spend as much time as i could at his Framingham home, which seemed to be a never-ending hang, where folks drank coffee and talked about music and played music at all hours of the day and night. His lovely wife Sonja would bustle about, taking care of the real world,  like was everyone fed and watered, and leaving Joe to his more otherworldly one, one of spirit and  holy communion with the ineffable. His laugh was just about the most glorious sound I had ever heard, and it would ring loud and clear and often. And that voice of his…as classic as Miles or Satchmo or Orson Welles. He took me under his wing as he did all of the other bright-eyed moths, and I was honored to be asked to play in his group along with Mat and drummer Randy Peterson. It was the most challenging musical environment I had yet experienced, and remains to this day some of my deepest, take-me-out-of-my-comfort-zone music lessons. I can’t say I “killed it”, but I tried to keep up with him and endeavored to absorb all of the information that flowed out of him like lava from Mt Maneri.

Over the years I spent a lot of time at his house, rehearsing with Mat for Natraj or Persona or later on, House of Brown (in which I first met D’Elf drummer-to-be Erik Kerr), and though I wasn’t playing with Joe’s group any longer I would still linger after hours for a “Joe hang”. He would usually come down to the basement to check out what us youngsters were up to and make comments and suggestions, many of which would just leave us with our mouths hanging open, trying to comprehend the profundities and idiosyncratic logic that was his and only his. I fried the cones of a lot of speakers in that basement and popped many a blister on my fingers, mostly due to Joe’s cajoling and insatiable energy. With one of his many horns in hand, he would always be ready to sit in and coax us to try and keep up with him. I couldn’t believe how lucky Mat was to have such a hip dad, though for him it was no big deal, just Joe being Joe.

Joe was all about Love. Love, and Soul, if the two are actually different. He wanted you to play with soul rather than control, although the highest thing one could aspire to was soul control. As lofty and spiritual as he could be (and he was a deeply religious man) he always had an air of utter unpretentiousness about him. He was as earthy and real as could be, at the same time being entirely unreal, like some star stuff come to earth for a time and made, for a brief time, into human form. It seemed as if his body was never his friend, but the twinkle in his eyes belied any difficulties his mortal form may have given him.

When I finally got around to putting a band of my own together years later and Club d’Elf emerged out of the black mists of chaos, I started trying to figure out a way to get Joe involved. Mat had been playing with the band from the beginning and was open to bringing his Dad down, so we finally hooked it up for a show at the Lizard Lounge. Anyone who has seen the band knows that I do a lot of conducting, using hand gestures and signals as a way of directing the players through the music and cueing parts, but with Joe there was nothing i could do, or would want to do. How could i put myself in the position of trying to direct this man, who with eyes closed and horns to lip or voice unfettered and calling to the spirits, was deeper into the zone than i could ever hope to be? I relinquished any control I had over the music and would, along with the other players,  just ride the wave that he created. The other players understood  Joe’s unique place in the pantheon, him being the spiritual grandfather of the band and deserving of the respect one pays to the Elders.

This video was shot at our first trip to NYC, when D’Elf played the Knitting Factory on 4/20/00. John Medeski had been a student of Joe’s at New England Conservatory in the mid 80’s and held Joe in great esteem. I knew that they had never played together since John’s graduation, and I looked forward to making this happen and witnessing the magic that would occur when these two finally got to play together. Mat, Brahim Fribgane, Erik Kerr & myself filled out the rest of the band and the show went so well that we ended up releasing it a few years later on Kufala Recordings. Joe’s vocalizing in this scene from the song Jungle Adagio never ceases to give me chills. Even when not playing Joe still lead the charge, always being totally present in the moment and tuned into some deep energetic source.

This one came from a couple of years later when we played the last gig of a tour that took us down as far as Atlanta, at the Mercury Lounge in NYC on 3/31/02. The touring band of Medeski, Mat, Brahim, Mister Rourke, Eric Kalb & myself were joined for this show by Joe, something we had all been looking forward to during the run. Brahim had taught us a Gnawa song called Challaban, and Joe added his tenor stylings to the mix.

Two of my favorite memories of Joe:

In late ’99 I got it into my head that a nice line-up of the band would include then-David Bowie guitarist Reeves Gabrels along with Joe and Mat. Joe and Reeves had never met and probably never heard each other’s music (although Mat was a big Bowie fan and Joe may have heard some sounds wafting through the house), and while on paper it looked kind of unlikely, with the Rock Star guitarist playing with the Microtonal Mad Man, but that show yielded some amazing music. Some of it wound up on our first CD, As Above: Live At The Lizard Lounge, with the last track called Divine Invasion. It was an improvisation that Joe began as i ended was to be the final tune of the night. Joe didn’t think so apparently, and launched into a soliloquy on his clarinet, joined after a minute or two by Mat. Their duet gradually gave way to the whole band joining in, and the energy rose into a crescendo of heart-aching beauty and intensity, and then just as quickly died away into silence, with the final sound being Joe’s laugh. I will always treasure that moment.

Micro, Joe & Mat at NEC's ceremony honoring Joe

On one of the occasions that we played Club Helsinki (which sadly closes this Monday) in Great Barrington, Joe joined a band that also included Mat, John Medeski, Brahim Fribgane & Erik and myself. Our friends the Zukowski’s put us up at their lovely home in nearby Otis, and Richard, a world-renowned practitioner of Hoshino Therapy, a form of deep skeletal-muscular acupressure, had set up an appointment to work on Joe the following morning. We were all staying in the clinic, which is a beautiful Japanese-style structure with walls made of rice paper and sliding doors, none of which allows for much sound-proofing. Basically you hear anything that is going on upstairs or down from anywhere inside. We awoke to Joe’s exhortations as Richard worked on him, crying out in that familiar way of his and saying to RZ, “Oh! Oh!!! You’re like Beethoven! Bach! Oh! Ohhhh!” It was the funniest thing, and we were all in tears.

I love you, Joe and will miss you so much on this earth.  I will continue to take what you have given me and try to do something worthy of making you laugh that laugh of yours. Those of us fortunate to have been touched by you have been left a legacy that we will have to reckon with whenever we hold instrument in hand or lift voice in song. May your pain now be eased and may you travel safe, now that the star stuff of which you were made returns to The Source.

To end this I’d like to include a poem that Erik Kerr wrote for Joe. His words say what I wish that mine could, and I think Joe would really dig this.

For Joe

Prelude to bliss and you sprung up, prelude to a kiss.
A wild, unwieldy beast of a plant; a fragrant ragamuffin of a weed –
infectious and giddy and brooding and troubled.
Sown widely in love,
Behold! The fields you have planted have grown up to greet you!
On earth, your voice caught the current of the stream,
carried the wind with Funk so deep: Ruach HaKodesh.
Deeply rooted, singing, wounded,
stretching, calling, culled from Stone.
Speaking cleverly in riddles, unknown tongues
from laughing lips and mischief-eyed dancing stars;
adventurous and cantankerous, provoking us
to taste and see.
Unless a kernel of wheat dies…
And so you have, planted in twelve-tone rows,
before our unbelieving eyes,
wishing once more to hear Your microtones.
You swashbuckler! You rogue prophet! You swinging trickster!
Disabling disability, now you play the head!
Blowing over new changes and new forms! New sounds! And new worlds!
Clouded over eyes now crystal clear,
while we cry glasses full of tears!
And you play on and we play on and Life plays on.
And the bitter is sweetened somehow
by the remembrance of you,
sealed with a kiss,
a prelude that never dies.
Nobody laughs
but everyone smiles.
Farewell for now!
Farewell, my friend!

– Erik Kerr