Wednesday, January 24, 2007

C.D. Review; Nomo- New Tones (Ubiquity)

Following in the wake of Antibalas' success in importing a convincing Afrobeat sound to an American band, groups like Toronto's Mr. Something Something and Ann Arbor's Nomo have embraced the sound, and play unabashed Fela Kuti inspired loose jams played over tight rhythm sections.
Nomo is led by saxophone player Elliot Bergman, and consists of 8 core members along with sundry guests at live appearances. This is their first release on San Francisco based funk revivalists Ubiquity Records and it came out last spring. It came to my attention around Christmas, but then there are only so many hours in a day and not even all of those can be spent listening to music.
The disc runs for close to an hour and provides an enjoyable sojourn into a mix of Afrobeat and more techno- influenced elements like the ever present but always subdued bass lines that characterize much of New Tones. This release consists of 11 instrumentals, although some, like "One to One" sound like they could sound fantastic behind the right singer.
While the Fela Kuti and Africa 70 influence is obvious, the horn lines are often more subtle and sound more like earlier jazz arrangements that inspired Fela himself. In fact, Nomo sound more like Fela's drummer Tony Allen's seventies albums recorded with the same band (Africa 70). Allen’s efforts feature tighter arrangements than Fela-led songs with the band, but more restrained riffing. As far as the horn playing sounds on New Tones, Coltrane and Sun Ra are invoked as much as Afrobeat. Some tracks like "Hand and Mouth" have a free jazz vibe like some of the seventies records by Detroit's Tribe collective.
The band adds a few home made percussion instruments to their rhythm section, which worked well enough for Kinshasa’s various Congotronics groups. Indeed, the Congotronics effect is heard in full on this c.d.'s opening cut "Nu Tones", with its distorted finger piano leading the charge on this fast paced tune. The snappy "Fourth Ward" has a dirty-funk sounding introduction which belies the very approachable horn lines that lead the tune, which at under three minutes is the shortest cut on New Tones.
The next couple of tracks feature some elegant harp playing while Nomo continue their Americanized repatriation of African jazz, adding to the loop of each continent influencing music in the other. The meandering horn solos held tog by an unwavering groove give way to some quirkier, more aggressive horn bouts on the fifth track, "New Song" (another instrumental despite the title's implications).
"We Do We Go" adds some flute and a larger dose of Erik Hall's guitar playing. The omnipresent rumbling bass playing gets a little louder at times, but it never predominates on any track, sounding more like an approaching storm that never quite passes right over the listener's head. The album closes with a meditative track, featuring one last return to the band's gamelan set, as it backs the horn charts' final tribute to John Coltrane.
New Tones is too jazzy to be a dance-funk album, although some cuts might work on some dance floors. The Afrobeat definitely takes a side seat to post-Bebop American jazz, and the techno-sounding production adds a cold sound to this c.d. The playing is great, the music is compelling, but it sounds like something to wind down with, or to play while in a contemplative mood. New Tones is certainly compelling listening, but I suspect Nomo's live performances are more entertaining.

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