In the end, it all comes down to one thing: the groove, or whatever you might wanna call it. The beat. The rhythm. The feel. The vibe. You know it when you feel it.
When it’s locked in, it can be transcendent.
And that transcendence, that stunning sense of revelation, is what bass master Mike Rivard and the loose-knit of collective of musicians who float in and out of the Club d’Elf orbit have been pursuing for more than 20 years now.
The Club d’Elf sound, though, is more personal, and it comes from a different place – or more accurately, perhaps, many different places: the band’s latest record, their third, called You Never Know, includes covers of Miles Davis and Frank Zappa tunes, alongside Moroccan gnawa and Sufi folk songs.
You Never Know, Rivard told That Portland Sound during a recent interview, stands alongside the band’s first two recordings, but it’s a somewhat different beast.
“The other two records, I made an attempt to include as many musicians who have played with the band as possible,” Rivard said, “and there’ve been over 120 musicians who have been in and out of the band, along with a rotating cast of somewhat regular players … so those records were built up with a lot of overdubs. For this one, I tried to do it as live as possible.”
The result is a very in-the-moment feel, where every musician brings their own story to the fabric of the sound, weaving it in and around what for him is a sound born of artistic and personal redemption.
In 2015, Rivard was deep in the Amazon jungle, studying with indigenous healers, when he developed a pulmonary embolism — a life-threatening condition that, in turn, precipitated a long period of even deeper depression.
“I was clinically depressed for a few years, and I worked with learning music in the gnawa tradition to focus on and give my life some meaning,” Rivard said. “As I worked through the darkness, a lot of the music started to take shape. Going into the studio was kind of a Hail Mary, because I really felt I had lost touch with the creative spirit. In that level of depression, everything goes away and there’s no pleasure in anything and it’s very frightening. Going into the studio was really my attempt to see if there was anything left to say.”
Clearly, there was. You Never Know has been getting some rave reviews and the Club d’Elf live shows have become legendary, with no two ever alike.
And they’re set to take the stage at the Bayside Bowl on Friday, April 8.
Rivard said Club d’Elf will play two sets that night, and each set is played without stopping.
“Folks better be ready for a lot of music, because we’re going to play a lot of music and see where it takes us,” Rivard said. “What we try to do is help people lose track of time. Not looking at the clock, not looking at your device. Losing yourself in the eternal flow of the moment. That’s where we hope to take folks.”
And if the tracks on You Never Know are indicative of anything at all, it’s gonna be a helluva journey.