Nomo, the Ann Arbor-via-everywhere outfit (or is it the other way around?), started life six years and four records ago as a savvy collective of players, led by multi-instrumentalist Elliot Bergman, playing a homegrown, jazz-influenced take on Afrobeat. They were the kind of ecstatic, loose-tight unit that could light up a club on a slow Monday, guaranteeing shakin' asses and great jams. But since their debut self-titled recorded salvo, they've evolved from genre-bound purists to truly elastic, cross-cultural musical omnivores, ever-touring, ever-tuning into brave new sonic alchemy, new routes through which to collide and mend together tones, instruments, styles and aural inventions.
Last year's Ghost Rock was their boldest proclamation yet, but this one — recorded during Ghost Rock sessions and between tour jags by band member and producer Warn Defever (His Name is Alive, timeStereo, etc., etc.) — absolutely seals the deal: Nomo's in a land all its own making. The title track lights the way with staccato beats, blurts and squeals from lost machines and a bright horn theme that greets you like an ambassador ready to give you a locals-only tour of a new town. And after that six-minute-plus workout, it just gets better and crazier, more contemplative ... and just more, more, more. That's not to say it's a mere genre mash-up gumbo. Far from it. Defever's production and Bergman's arrangements assure that each instrument has its own earspace in which to breathe and stake its claim.
There's a sea island junkyard reworking of Moondog's "Bumbo" as a bright but aggressive, loping swagger and sway. Later, on "Waiting," the band makes like some "Groove" Holmes-led hand-drum hyper-shuffle underneath a grand theme that feels like the best '70s television theme that never found its show. It feels like the packed entrance to a nightclub while you're still watching the ladies and dudes in action on the street.
But then Nomo pulls the rug out from under your dancing feet with "Crescent," dropping the listener into a dripping underground cavern where meditation takes root. Thumb piano and flute dance among the drops and echoes, with the cymbals shaking like a subdued charm ritual. These are new spaces for Nomo's sound — intimate and touched with light mystery. Even further out is the mysterious, noir-ish "MA." It's a lyrical dark beauty — and not just because it's where human voices finally show up on the disc. In fact, the musical motifs here are actually kinda menacing. The sax lines rumble under nervous guitars, plucked percussion and half-frantic, half-insinuating narration (of a sort) by counterpoint horn themes. And the female vocals, in this context at least, sound half like a cry for help and half like a sigh of relief. Really and truly striking!
Nomo also digs into its blues side with the subdued rocking "Patterns" and the elegiac jazz lament "Elijah," featuring as they do crying horns, marching like a Crescent City funeral crew building to crescendos and traveling back down for a bottom-heavy fade. It's probably an understatement to say the band covers a lot of ground in the span of nine jams. It's played out by a warehouse full of instruments, gathered from the world's numerous musical traditions, and then reinvented by various band members. And there's not a wasted note, a gratuitous noodle or a missed opportunity to achieve grace, groove or pure awe. With the deeply rooted, cosmically aligned Invisible Cities, Nomo's really in a world of their own making. It's awfully nice of them to let us visit it for an hour.
Chris Handyside writes about music for the Metro Times. E-Mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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