Aug 24, 2009

Nomo - New Tones


NOMO were signed to Ubiquity through interest in their little-known self-titled debut album, and on the back of an onslaught of persuasive emails from their fans (including Sam Valenti IV of Ghostly International fame) that the band puts on a must-see live show. Raw propulsive rhythms and infectious melodies carry a horn section and multilayered percussion that is part Tom Ze, M.I.A., Philip Cohran, P-Funk, Antibalas, Tortoise and Harry Partch. Enigmatic Detroit producer Warren Defever was charged with capturing the band’s live energy, and he shaped the sounds for maximum impact. New Tones is a full-color, spiritual soundscape that marries the exotic with the gritty. NOMO’s New Tones moves beyond the ecstatic to approach Bergman’s vision of a transcendent, elemental sound—one that aims to move both bodies and spirits.“We blend minimalist keyboard loops, fuzzed-out bass, soulful group vocals, and rolling blasts from an electric mbira,” explains an enthusiastic Bergman. “Throw in a horn-led midnight funeral procession and hopefully you have a deep listen that’s also a soul shaking dance party for the people!”In 2004 Ypsilanti Records released NOMO’s debut album and the band sold a few thousand copies (in the USA), mostly based on the strength of their live set. With the indie-press latching on to the band reviews came in from the Fader, XLR8R, Magnet, Blender, and the band even landed a spot on the Urb Next 100 list. Later in the Fall of 2005 P-vine would give the debut album a Japanese domestic release. Following that, Ghostly International released a Dabrye remix of "Not Wisely/Too Well", from the debut, on the "Additional Productions vol.1" EP. In the Spring of 2006 Kindred Spirits will include "Better Than That" on a spiritual jazz compilation and release a four song 12" in March prior to the New Tones album release in May.“The New Tones recordings are more intricate and nuanced than anything we’ve released,” says Bergman. “The record features an arsenal of homemade percussion including the “electric sawblade-gamelan”, “no-tone” shakers, and the “Nu-Tone cymbals”,” he adds.The band has a core of 8 multi-instrumentalists and their big steamrolling ensemble sound still leaves room for solo voices; Elliot Bergman (Tenor Sax, Bass Clarinet, Synths, Rhodes, Electric Mbira etc), Erik Hall (Guitar and Percussion), Jamie Register (Bass and Singing), Dan Piccolo (Drumset, Canister), Olman Piedra (Congas and percussion), Dan Bennett (Saxophones), Ingrid Racine (trumpet), and Justin Walter (Trumpet). New Tones is the product of six months of recording at Midwest venues including Detroit’s venerable United Sound Systems (as featured on the Luv N’Haight compilation Searching for Soul), Key Club Recording Company, Detroit’s Orchestra Hall, and the NOMO basement. “Many band members lived together in Ann Arbor over a 5 year period. This place was ground zero for NOMO activity, housed rehearsals, and many a sweaty basement dance party,” says Bergman. “In fact, we had lots of good shows went there, from avant noise bands to folky sing-alongs to free jazz jams to electro.”Nu Tones is all original, except for "The Book of Right On" a cover of a track by Joanna Newsom. “She is a strange and wonderful singer/harpist who sounds like a baroque version of Bjork, or some strange Ancient/Future nymph singing...she's certainly an acquired taste, but one that I love,” says Bergman. The album documents a 2-year period of incessant performing and rehearsing, playing in sweaty basements, indie rock bars, and radio stations. The band has played numerous festival stages with groups as diverse as Amp Fiddler, Sharon Jones, Numbers, and dB’s. One of the highlights was playing to 4,000 people with Fred Anderson and Nicole Mitchell sitting in at the Chicago World Music Festival. The AACM collaboration carried through to the making of this record, which features Mitchell’s otherworldly flute work on the opening track "Nu Tones", and then as the soloist on "We Do We Go" and "If You Want".



The Detroit-based NOMO begins New Tones with the sound of the electric kalimba, leading the listener to believe that they are in for an adventurous musical experience, but as the disc progresses, it takes on the feel of an endless dance track.

To composer/arranger Elliot Bergman's credit, he incorporates electric saw blade, gamelan, farfisa organ, nu-tone cymbals, canister and various other percussion instruments into the music, but the sounds are not really used to create new soundscapes, instead just adding to the grooves. Elements of improvisation are overtaken by these grooves, many times buried in the thick background figures of the brass. New Tones offers up quality dance club grooves, but not much for the free jazz listener looking for the Afro-beat-influenced Sun Ra style to which the band alludes.

The standout songs— Fourth Ward, with an interesting Brazilian-based feel; and “One to One,â€� with a funky style a la James Brown—are both layered with multiple Afro-beats. Also worthy of mention is New Song,which contains a hand-clapping section underneath a trumpet solo. As the song progresses, the instruments re-enter in small groupings. This simplified orchestration helps set up a spirited solo by baritone saxophonist Dan Bennett.

NOMO's performance at Joe's Pub last month was a bit more interesting, but it made it even more evident that the tunes are better suited for a dance club atmosphere. Had a dance floor been provided, possibly the band’s performance energy may have been directed in a more musically productive direction.

The remarkable soloists in NOMO's live set were Jamie Register (electric bass) and the aformentioned Dan Bennett. Bennett seemed to have the best sense of how to fit his ideas over the groove, creating some interesting music. Registers solid playing and moments of lead vocals on If You Want helped to make the live performance a more creative event. The material, live or recorded, seems to need more than a "hook groove." New Tones could have presented more interesting materials with a lead singer or more improvisational space for the band—and much less focus on the groove elements.


Nomo's eponymous debut was one of last year's more pleasant surprises. The Michigan group's Afrobeat-inspired big-band jazz offered plenty of thrills, though its unique identity was still emerging. On New Tones, they've taken that basic blueprint and transformed it into a sound that's more their own, incorporating home-made instruments, a harder, funkier rhythmic attack, and a healthy Congotronics influence. His Name Is Alive's Warn Defever is back in the producer's chair, and the groove this time around is several fathoms deeper than it was the first time.

As he began writing and arranging these tracks last year, Nomo leader Elliot Bergman obviously absorbed the ragged electro-trance music of Konono No. 1 and the other Kinshasa groups brought to light by Crammed Discs, and his latest tracks incorporate things like "electric sawblade gamelan" and "nu-tone symbals." The album kicks off with a spluttering electric thumb piano riff, quickly joined by staccato blasts from the horn section. As the pieces fall into place, the song gets more crazily awesome by leaps and bounds. When the processed bass and drum kit drop in together under the horns, the whole thing just blasts off, and every note being played by the dozen-plus lineup feels like it's serving the greater good.

Skipping around the album, it's almost impossible not to find a killer rhythm track butting heads with thundering brass. "One to One" rides a nasty polyrhythm, laying a swaying 6/8 rhythm against a 4/4 stomp to create an unstoppable groove. You could stick with that charged sway for half an album and not get tired of it, but Nomo moves on after five minutes into the Fela-inspired "If You Want", balancing crunching horns with peaceful passages dominated by Rhodes piano and flute. The relative brevity of these pieces-- they range from eight minutes to just three-- is a strength in that it gives you exactly what you need from each composition. Hard-hitting heads, controlled breakdowns, tight solos and sharp attention to detail keep these songs fresh, and they're not allowed to overstay their welcome.

So in just three minutes, "Fourth Ward" takes you on a crazed exotica odyssey, brittle horns floating in the spacious production over Afro-Cuban rhythms in a texture that shoots Duke Ellington's Cotton Club-era jungle music into the 21st century. Sax and ring-modulated synth tangle in the open rhythms of "We Do We Go", with the sax frequently sounding more otherwordly than the synth, while the bassline of "Hand and Mouth" threatens to swallow the rest of the song. Their cover of Joanna Newsom's "Book of Right On", meanwhile, echoes the early-70s free funk of Donald Byrd and Luther Thomas.

As the album simmers to a close with the majestic horns and clanking metal percussion of the slow-burning "Sarvodaya", the sense of having taken a journey is palpable (heck, that song alone is quite a trip). Bergman has taken Nomo well to the next level on its sophomore effort, forging a clattering, vital sound that bridges styles and decades with ease.

— Joe Tangari, May 31, 2006 (Source)


1. Nu Tones
2. Hand & Mouth
3. Fourth Ward
4. Reasons
5. New Song
6. Divisions
7. We Do We Go
8. One to One
9. If You Want
10. Book of Right On
11. Sarvodaya

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