Bob Belden can’t seem to get away from Bitches Brew. He was the man behind 1998’s four-disc box The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, as well as the 2008 two-disc set Miles From India, which gathered together Indian players and Davis alumni to transform the trumpeter’s tunes—including some of the Bitches Brew tracks—into East/West hybrids. Three years later, the producer, arranger and saxophonist has released yet another take on Bitches Brew, this one featuring Animation, his longtime off-and-on collaboration with trumpeter Tim Hagans.
Asiento—the name refers to an initiation that’s part of the Afro-Caribbean religion Santeria—is the remarkable result. Recorded at a 2006 concert at New York’s Merkin Hall, this is no mere retread of the groundbreaking Miles record. Asiento completely reinvents the compositions, with the assistance of Scott Kinsey on keyboards, Matt Garrison on bass, Guy Licata on drums and DJ Logic on turntables. Ambient sounds, drum-’n’-bass rhythms and trip-hop textures dominate, though the aesthetics of funk, rock and fusion rear their heads when you least expect them to.
To wit: “Pharaoh’s Dance” incorporates nearly all of these elements and more, at times seeming like a soundtrack to fever-induced hallucinations. Hagans’ processed trumpet, wrought with echo and delay, blurts over Garrison’s aggressive electric bass and rapid-fire drumming on “Bitches Brew.” Guitar, bass and drums twist the signature riff of “John McLaughlin” into a sweet slice of funk. Logic scratches ominously and Kinsey clangs his distorted electric piano like an iron bell as “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” grows more intense with each layer. The familiar theme of “Sanctuary” serves as the underpinning for what could pass for something out of the quieter moments of Blade Runner, but then turns into a drum-’n’-bass bonanza. Asiento is a surprising and fresh piece of work, one that makes you hungry for whatever Belden comes up with next—as long as it’s not Bitches Bluegrass.