Album: As Above by Club d’Elf

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Joan Hathaway, Mark Wilson

My first introduction into the illustrious world of Club d’Elf was through the release of their iconic debut album ‘As Above’ it was getting a digital release after spending the better part of two and a half decades as a collector’s item, after its release as a limited CD way back at the turn of the millennium… and oh, what an introduction it was.

 Club d’Elf, is a Bostonian dub and jazz collective that has been creating stirring, dense, challenging, but incredibly rewarding music for twenty-five years. Genre-bending and exhilaratingly adventurous, Club d’Elf’s music is first and foremost jazz, but the traces of hip hop, trance, and electronica can not be overlooked, with some experimentation on ‘As Above’ that can be easily described as Avant-garde. Masterminded by Mike Rivard, the bassist, composer, and founder, his collective has never been anything short of astonishing. Currently, the group’s core members are Rivard, Dean Johnston on the drums, Mister Rourke on the turntables, and the Moroccan oudist Brahim Fribgane.

 What you’ll find on As Above is roughly 2 and a half hours of delicious modern jazz with an innumerable number of tricks, fantastic performances, uber-tight production, and killer grooves, and it’s all recorded live over the course of 6 performances in 1999 and 2000, and the idea that this pristine neatness was recorded live is something that nearly defies belief, a testimony to the intense and varied spectrum of talent that Club d’Elf houses. You could really point your hand at any of the 20 pieces on ‘As Above’ and you’ll find something extremely noteworthy.  A tight, crisp groove from the wonderful sounding drums, electronic synthesizers magic, stellar, showstopping bass performances, or guitars that sound so crunchy and meaty they feel like they will rip the speakers open and jump right into your space. A general fact that persists throughout the album is the neatness of the production. No matter how dense the mix is, with multitudes of wobbly synths, dynamic and intricate drum parts, or nuanced, busy bass parts, the mix stays concise and focused. The general experience of listening to this album is extremely streamlined and enjoyable, even if the average length of those pieces is 8 minutes, the sound clarity and definition are something that makes everything easy and pleasing and flowing.

 The compositions can not take the backseats to the production though. As a general rule, the pieces incorporate an impressive amount of detail, using uncommon instrumentation, syncopation, ethnic rhythms, or just simply quirky synths that make the atmospheres consistently compelling and fascinating. Another stone-hard fact that can’t be overlooked is that the performances on this album are sublime. Be a lover of this style of music or not, there’s no denying that the musical chemistry among these compositions and among the players, the core ones, and the many collaborators on this project, is obvious and present. The players featured on As Above are simply professional, well-trained, and stage-honed veteran jazzists, with no exceptions, and the unfaltering quality of playing is a clear testimony to this.

 As Above is a dense and sprawling release that defies what can be written in a conventional article. If I can’t resist the temptation to start discussing actual pieces and what makes them stand out, then I’ll not be able to hold myself from talking about the next one, then the next, and the result will be a short story of sorts. So instead, I take refuge in directing each and every one of you to give this album a listen (preferably from the start, as things tend to start out relatively more conventional, and they get progressively more challenging and alien), and you’ll find it easy to understand what I mean by tight production, killer grooves, and consistently brilliant performances from all the players. As Above is definitely a challenging listen, probably one that could take a couple of days to complete and to digest, but it will undoubtedly be an unforgettable one. For jazz lovers, this album will be a must-listen.



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