NOMO Invisible Cities

[Ubiquity; 2009]

Styles: future funk, jazz
Others: Antibalas, Mulatu Astatke, Konono №1

Although assuming regional distinctions might suggest a provincial worldview, I’ll be honest — when I first heard NOMO, I would never have imagined that they were from Ypsilanti, Michigan. Over the course of three full-lengths and two EPs, the band has cranked out consistent sets of dense, polyrhythmic grooves indebted to traditional African music. A companion album to last year’s Ghost Rock, Invisible Cities again finds the group in fine form, refining their sound and moving gradually further from revivalist afrobeat into a style all their own.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is certainly a tired cliché, but it’s difficult to find a more appropriate one to describe NOMO’s instrumentation. On Invisible Cities, sets of street-sweeper tines are amplified, distorted, and played like kalimbas, and antique fire extinguishers are pounded like Caribbean steel drums. The band utilizes whatever they can lay their hands on, not unlike many small groups of African musicians with severely limited access to traditional instruments. While it would be easy (and lazy) to let necessity dictate musical choice, NOMO shows no evidence of restricted creativity in their equally enjoyable and musically compelling songs.

The title track starts the album with jittery amplified finger percussion, electronics, and a complex, driving drumbeat. The hypnotic groove ultimately leads to a fluid saxophone solo treated carefully with delay and reverb, and then a quiet outro that brings the simple, propulsive bassline back to the surface. With its delicate flute, hand percussion, and surplus of shakers, “Crescent” offers a delicate respite before album standout “Patterns.” The latter is the most straightforward funk track here, with its monstrous horn refrain paying homage to more traditional jazz rather than the avant-garde icons they most often emulate. NOMO’s most progressive side is heard in their faithful Tom Zé and Moondog covers (“Ma” and “Bumbo,” respectively), as well as in the portentous free jazz exercise, “Elijah.” It’s the only track here that is really unprecedented for the group, with its amorphous cloud of horns, swelling cymbals, and clattering percussion free of any stable rhythm or pattern.

NOMO are slowly moving away from the comfortable Fela-worship they’ve demonstrated over several albums. Increasingly more tracks feature the kraut-y repetition of Can and Harmonia, and hopefully the barely-held-together, Sun Ra-indebted “Elijah” is indicative of more adventurous musical direction. Invisible Cities doesn’t quite reach as high as Ghost Rock did, but it’s a solid album no less, showing Bergman and company steadily progressing toward a singular sound.

1. Invisible Cities
2. Bumbo
3. Waiting
4. Crescent
5. Patterns
6. Ma
7. Banners on High
8. Elijah
9. Nocturne

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