Club d’Elf

You Never Know
(Face Pelt)

Boston’s Club d’Elf is heading for its 25th anniversary, founded by bass man and composer Mike Rivard. The band’s most distinctive element is the Moroccan gnaoua music input, from Rivard himself, and from Brahim Fribgane, who plays oud, plus a sackload of North African percussion.

Rivard has studied gnaoua extensively, and sometimes plays the sintir, a resonant string instrument from that tradition. He’s also the prime composer, although this set additionally includes several traditional folk tunes, as well as old chestnuts from Miles Davis and Frank Zappa. Rivard, Fribgane and drummer Dean Johnston are the core trio, playing on all 10 tracks, but the album’s second half switches to a lineup that features John Medeski (multiple keyboards) and Dave Fiuczynski (fretted and fretless guitars). Club d’Elf have an endlessly transforming collective sound, but Rivard always selects artists who he knows will be compatible with the overall groove. Multiple elements share the space, evolving in the weave.

Strings are sensitively bent, whether by Fuze or by lap steeler Kevin Barry. Around eight minutes is the favored tune-length, facilitating building grooves and a procession of solos. Mister Rourke manipulates turntables on six cuts, often via vinyl selections that feature vocals. The slower numbers adopt a hazily swirling U.S. country style, completely contrasting with the faster funk striders.