This isn’t morning music—unless, that is, the time is 3 a.m. and you’ve been club-hoppin’ since 11. Now I Understand is a hybridization of night music: jazz, funk, drum n’ bass, dub, and turntables. You can dance to it or let it put you in a trance—the latter, perhaps, being more appropriate, since Club d’Elf (read: “clubbed elf”) derived its name from the trance-inspired writings of Terrence McKenna. This band thrives in a live setting and loves stretching out, as proved by the six (!) double-disc (!!) live recordings that preceded Now I Understand. It seems, then, that this 13-track, 67-minute studio release (their first) could be called Club d’Elf condensed. Boston bassist Mike Rivard leads the band’s rotating cast of characters. In sum, 25 musicians contribute to Now I Understand, including John Medeski, Billy Martin, DJ Logic, and Mat Maneri, and together they generate a smorgasbord of styles that is both a heady and exhausting. At its best, Club d’Elf masters jazz-funk-world-fusion (the title track and “Vishnu Dub”). The band also admirably gives Jenifer Jackson room to breathe on the sultry “A Toy for a Boy”, with Jackson providing the album’s only non-sampled vocals. At its worst, the band evokes comparison with a DJ suffering from attention-deficit disorder (“And Shadow Saw the Gods”). And although oud and tablas lend an appealing Moroccan influence to the dense “Quilty”, the song starts wearing thin in its sixth minute. I can’t quite determine if “Wet Bones (Extended)” is a genius space odyssey or a train wreck of obfuscation—your experience may depend on the time of day and your state of consciousness. Something tells me Club d’Elf would suggest that the time be night and your state be altered.
// Notes from the Road
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