About eight years ago, composer/bassist Mike Rivard began leading a "floating residency in Cambridge, Massachusetts, organized around the rhythm section, which pulsed behind a kaleidoscope of horn, keyboard, percussion and guitar players. After seven live releases, Rivard has finally shepherded his "ever-changing performance ensemble into its first studio album.
No fewer than 25 musicians participate in the workshop, happily hammering around the core "Elves : Rivard on basses and sintir, a three-stringed bass lute from Morocco; drummer Erik Kerr; turntablist Mister Rourke; and Brahim Fribgane on percussion, oud and dumbek.
Miles Davis most likely would have laughed his ass off, but in the best way, at Now I Understand as a bastard child of Bitches Brew. Bitches Brew experimented with essential elements of modern jazz, rock and funk, in new ways, for new purposes; Now I Understand does essentially the same thingexperiment and improvisebut instead uses progressive rock, hip-hop and indigenous music as its raw material. Rivard explains that although many of the band are trained musicians and have come from the jazz tradition, they're also informed by the aesthetic of DJ culture.
Their exotic journey begins with "Bass Beat Box, a Club staple built up from Rivard's ascending bass scale and hammered down by two drummers (Jay Hilt plays "slow with Kerr on "fast drums). Electronic effects polish the drums to sound robotic, metallicthe pounding corrosive sound of futuristic funk.
A fluffy sound cloud ("Quilty ) melts into "Vishnu Dub, strikingly colored by Fribgane's oud and dumbek while guitarists Gerry Leonard and Duke Levine explore outer galaxies of sound. In the cool shadow of Jenifer Jackson's doe-eyed vocal, "A Toy For A Boy sounds like lost Syd Barrett, an oddly peaceful haven from the aggressive, relentless experimentation that follows in "Wet Bones (extended), an interstellar reggae-dub cryptogram that builds outward in layers, and the electro-ethnic tour de force "Visions Of Kali.
An octet that turns on guitarist Reeves Gabrels, keyboardist John Medeski and turntablist DJ Logic paints a portrait in sound for the title track, an electronic thrust into the blackest heart of modern darkness.
Personnel: Peter Adams; Alan Chase; DJ C; DJ Lock; DJ Axel Foley; Jere Faison; Brahim Fribgane; Reeves Gabrels; Tom Hall; Jay Hilt; Jenifer Jackson; Erik Kerr; Jerry Leake; Gerry Leonard; Duke Levine; Alain Mallet; Billy Martin; Mat Maneri; John Medeski; Mister Rourke; Mike Rivard; Randy Roos; Joel Springer; Paul Stiller; Dave Tronzo.