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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, with a funky style a la James Brownare 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. Register's 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 bandand much less focus on the groove elements.
Track Listing: Nu Tones; Hand and Mouth; Fourth Ward; Reasons; New Song; Divisions; We Do We Go; One to One; If You Want; Book of Right On; Sarvodaya.
Personnel: Dan Bennett: saxophones; Elliot Bergman: clarinet, keyboards; saxophones; electric kalimba; Natalie Bergman: vocals; Susan Bergman: vocals; Vincent Chandler: trombone; Nate Davidson: guitars; Warn Defever: bass; Erik Hall: percussion, guitar; Chilali Hugo: harp; G. Scott Jones: trombone; Nicole Mitchell: flute, alto flute, piccolo; Dean McKinney Moore: saxophone; Dan Piccolo: drums, bells; Olman Piedra: congas, percussion; Jamie Register: bass, vocals, percussion; Steve Rush: farfisa organ; Justin Walter: trumpet, bells, log drums.