All About Jazz – Jan 10, 2007
Now I Understand Review By Chris M. Slawecki
About eight years ago, composer/bassist Mike Rivard began leading a â€œfloating residencyâ€ 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 â€œever-changing performance ensembleâ€ into its first studio album.
No fewer than 25 musicians participate in the workshop, happily hammering around the core â€œElvesâ€: 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 thingâ€”experiment and improviseâ€”but 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 â€œBass Beat Box,â€ a Club staple built up from Rivard's ascending bass scale and hammered down by two drummers (Jay Hilt plays â€œslowâ€ with Kerr on â€œfastâ€ drums). Electronic effects polish the drums to sound robotic, metallicâ€”the pounding corrosive sound of futuristic funk.
A fluffy sound cloud (â€œQuiltyâ€) melts into â€œVishnu Dub,â€ 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, â€œA Toy For A Boyâ€ sounds like lost Syd Barrett, an oddly peaceful haven from the aggressive, relentless experimentation that follows in â€œWet Bones (extended),â€ an interstellar reggae-dub cryptogram that builds outward in layers, and the electro-ethnic tour de force â€œVisions Of Kali.â€
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.