NOMO New Tones

[Ubiquity; 2006]

Styles: afrobeat, dub/reggae, free-jazz, funk
Others: Fela Kuti, Tortise, Antibalas, Icy Demons

I think it's safe to say that Elliot Bergman and his Detroit, hip-shakin' posse have put out another fun-as-hell summer album. 2004's self-titled debut was an all-around hit at the radio station for which I DJed, a rare feat to get both the picky DJs and the even pickier listeners behind an album. The mutual enthusiasm came from NOMO's sweat-fueled dance party jams rooted in African polyrhythm and a tight horn section letting out some of the catchiest and sample-worthy jazz melodies this side of Freddie Hubbard.

Warn DeFever (His Name Is Alive) returns as producer for New Tones, charged to capture the energy of the live show in the confines of the studio. So, I was surprised that, given this request, the sound is much cleaner than the debut. In a strange way, the roughly polished production reveals some new textures, especially in the homemade percussion (electric sawblade-gamelan, no-tone shakers, nu-tone cymbals) and electro-beats and bass lines which bring the polyrhythm up to a more complex level, that would've otherwise been lost underneath the pumpin' funk. It definitely brings out less of the "hipsters digging on Fela Kuti" vibe and more of a genuine vision that doesn't really need or want to adhere to a specific style as long as the aesthetic jam remains. I should probably eat my words on the last statement for the Joanna Newsom cover ("Book of Right On"), which caught me off guard on first listen ("Wait, isn't that the harp-strumming elf's song?"), but the excellent Sound Dimension-like electro-reggae cut only confirms it.

While the horn arrangements complement the driving percussion, they do have the tendency to come off uniform by the end of the album when en masse. When individuals really shine as soloists, it recalls the large ensemble John Coltrane groups of the early '60s working in modal composition and improvisation — especially on the sax and trumpet end here — but it doesn't keep my attention. Something like the gloriously layered closer "Sarvodaya" is where NOMO pulls out something unique as a collective, texturing melodies over transcendently ambient percussion. "New Song" also creatively gets the brass groove energized over some sick wah-wah guitar and deep funk.

The fact that New Tones can easily appeal to a Deadhead dancing wildly at an Antibalas happening shouldn't deter anyone from enjoying this album. In fact, I've learned much from living in a college town full of dreaded patchouli stank: if the jam is righteous and the noodling (which there's not much of here, but very likely in the live show) doesn't reach heights of self-indulgence, then are we really all that separate?

1. Nu Tones
2. Hand and 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