ALBUM REVIEW: Fire In The Brain by Club d'Elf
Review by Bill Grady ‘14
Fearless. Innovative. Powerful. Upon first listen these are the first three words the music of Club d’Elf evokes, and their new album, Fire In The Brain, does just that. Recorded live at Café 939 in July of 2012, the BIRN is proud to release this incredible new album on our BIRNCore label.
As any Berklee student knows, every student and faculty member has their own projects they claim are completely “original” or “game-changing.” Then there are the inevitable listening sessions with friends where one is subjected to everything from Asian Heavy Metal Hip-Hop to Israeli Funk-Fusion. By the time I reached my senior year, I thought I had heard it all. Then I listened to Fire In The Brain, and I was exposed to something the likes of which I had never heard before. The uniqueness of the instrumentation, the combination of different musical styles, and the energy and quality of the performance make this album a tour de force that doesn’t care if the listener likes it as long as he or she acknowledges its creative persistence.
Club d’Elf was founded in 1998 by frontman, bassist, and composer Mike Rivard. Since then the band has never stopped being daring in its live performances. The band doesn’t have a set line-up for every show; on the contrary, the guests that come and go with each concert is what makes the music truly original every time it’s played. Past guests have included John Medeski & Billy Martin (MMW), DJ Logic, Marc Ribot, Skerik, and Marco Benevento among others. For this particular album, Rivard stayed close to home and got some of the best Berklee faculty the school has to offer. Along with Rivard on bass, sintir, and bass kilimba, the rhythm section is completed by Dean Johnston on drums and electronic percussion, Alain Mallet on keys and melodica, and Mister Rourke on turntables. Rounding out the line up are Randy Roos on guitar and avant-garde slide master Dave Tronzo. Just the idea of combining those instruments in a live setting seems risible to the everyday listener, but it’s this iconoclastic view that makes Club d’Elf’s sound rise to the top of the fusion scene.
With such a variety of instruments, sounds, and personal backgrounds coming together, multiple genres can be picked out of the bands distinctive sound. Rivard describes the bands influences as such: The music draws from a startlingly wide spectrum of styles, including jazz, hip hop, electronica, prog-rock and dub, with the band exploring mash-ups of these diverse musical universes before the term was even in use. A Squarepusher-styled drum’n’bass groove may give way to a traditional North Indian tabla interlude, in turn dissolving into some Miles “Live Evil” type electric mayhem.
Every song on the album is a painting, with each different influence adding color and variety to create a product greater than the sum of its parts. The guitar-driven jam “Nemotodes” sounds like The Allman Brothers jamming with traditional Moroccan musicians, where as “Big Light In the Sky” is straight-up Headhunters style funk with the added tinge of Pink Floyd-esque sampling courtsty of Mister Rourke. One must note, however, that no matter how strong the influence on a particular track, the sound is never derivative and always original.
Just because Club d’Elf’s music is different and sophisticated compared to some of the other live acts around does not mean that this is “sit down in your living room with a cup of tea and analyze every note” music. The energy of the performers on stage elicits the same reaction from the audience, forming an inter-personal relationship and vulnerability with the crowd that is seldom seen at other shows of the same genre. After speaking personally with members of the band, some of them didn’t even realize the show that became Fire In the Brain was being recorded. That means that everything that happened on stage - every success, every mistake, every tightrope walking moment of risk and reward - was the same product that is delivered every show by this amazing collective of musicians. This is a band that thrives on the integrity of live performance, never predictable, but always honest. Engineer Ryan Walsh did an amazing job taming the beast that is the Club d’Elf sound, making every timbre, every level, and every emotion crystal clear. This gives the listener the feeling of not only communicating with the band but also experiencing the zeitgeist of the crowd itself.
The BIRN couldn’t be more excited to work with the great members of Club d’Elf, and we thank them for their participation. Be sure to check out the album on iTunes today!