Jun 9 2006, 09:19 AM
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His Name is Alive /NOMO (opens) Sat 6-10 9:30pm Annex 18+ $10
описания из allmusic & pitchfork
Review by Thom Jurek
The distorted thumb piano and handclap rhythms that introduce the title track of NOMO's second full-length (and its debut for Ubiquity), are jarring; they're instantly foreign and sharp, and lay out a different world of groove before those enormous horns — the band's trademark — electric bass, guitar, keyboards, and drum kit kick in full bore. When they do, it's off on an adventure that welds spiritual jazz, Afro-funk, old-school soul jazz, and a healthy sense of child's play tightly together. Here, electronics and dub make their appearances as sub-languages, but the drive train, the M.O., is rhythm wound upon more rhythm, coiled around still more. Elliot Bergman, the band's composer, arranger, and saxophonist, and producer Warn Defever, pay close attention to space, texture, pace, and dimension. The next cut, "Hand to Mouth" takes it all further. The sound of a Rhodes, a harp, slippery bright guitars, and punch-drunk horns all turning on a dime suggest Fela playing with Alice Coltrane and Roy Ayers in the JB's, in the wild and delightful complexity of this monster. Bergman's charts are quirky, but they're killer. On "Fourth Ward," it's as if the serial toughness and attack of Banda Black met Sun Ra's sense of humor and punchy swing, with a knotty, polyrhythmic pattern driving the whole thing, and yeah, it does wear its debt to Nigerian innovation on its sleeve. But it's not just the music that makes New Tones so startling and such a compulsive listen. Bergman and Warn Defever use production techniques to warm or accent the many blunt edges and loose wires of sound compacted and expanded on the album; spacey fades, treble wipe-out and in-the-red levels are common but are employed in unexpected ways and off locations in a given tune's structure. The multivalent melodic layers in "Reasons" showcase Bergman's keyboard playing. He makes his synth sound like a Wurlitzer and the Coltrane nod is obvious. But those interspersed lines, as wooly as they are, lie at the bottom. The horn section creates two more melodic lines that criss-cross, and Erik Hall's guitar acts like a second bass, keeping a pronounced lyric groove during the tenor solo. All these harmonic threads cut and weave: the in-and-out presences, the spectral trances of reverb and tonal juxtapositions as they bounce on the blanket of polyrhythms at the track's core, dictate not only pace and groove, but attack. The spiritual center of this music can be felt on virtually every track, though the grooves are so circular and infectious, it's tempting to simply focus on their endless renewal. The other aspect of New Tones is its willful but unpretentious exoticism. Given how deep-rooted it all is, it can be easy to overlook — and under-hear — all the subtle processes at work. Bergman's compositional sense of dynamic is finely tuned. He understands the tension at the heart of great jazz, and he knows just how far a particular motif can be stretched before it breaks. At the point where everything begins to converge, he introduces new ideas, never letting the old ones disappear completely; with a wry sense of humor and a keen ear he allows them just enough of a spectral trace so the listener does not get lost. The reverb and razor wire wah wah guitar chord riff that introduces the "We Do We Go" is heightened by dubby bass and synth lines that echo — in spirit if not in actuality — "Get Up Stand Up" by Bob Marley. It's all snaky, the keyboard moves like a Loa, floating but never coming to rest with a sense of spiritual ebb and flow. The tenor solo in the middle merely creates another labyrinth to follow into the rabbit hole. As a changeup, NOMO cover Joanna Newsom's "Book of Right On." It's spooky and nocturnal, yet it feels like a love song bubbling up from the cinematic underworld Jean Cocteau's had Orpheus hear on his car radio. The arrangement is sophisticated musically, but it's the truly gorgeous weave of sounds that Defever and Bergman frame the tune inside. It feels like Les Baxter's adventurous sense of perversity dancing with the elegance of Ellingtonia on a carpet of dreams and visions. The closer, "Sarvodaya," is named for the well-known Sri Lankan charity organization. It features a group chant, singing with loving kindness under the bells, cymbals, handclaps, and gamelan sounds. There is no funk here, though it is rhythmically contagious in its own quiet way. It is a prayer for wellness, compassion, and tranquility; for the needs of all to be met. One can almost hear the celestial ghost voices of John Coltrane and Don Cherry singing in the choir — so to speak — as the mantra winds and goes, goes, goes, into the heart's center. "Sarvodaya," is a nakedly spiritual cut that adds depth, balance, and dimension, a different kind of pleasure on New Tones, a set is that invites us all into the garden of ass-shaking delights.
His Name Is Alive
Warn Defever is the kind of musician who seems to stand in the corner, speaking very quietly, surrounded only by those who most want to listen. His records-- 15 years' worth of them-- feel, above all, private. Some of that privacy comes from genre and style: The music can be dreamy and abstracted, qualities that once made His Name Is Alive a natural fit for the arty English label 4AD. More often, though, it's down to Defever's singular approach to recording, always several degrees off from the conventions of normal pop. The drums hide away, like in pre-rock recordings; they add rhythm but rarely drive the whole. The instruments sound neither glossy nor raw, natural nor artificial; mostly they're just quiet, minimized, almost pious. The air around them-- and there can be plenty of it-- seems strangely empty, the same way winter snow can deaden all noise. And then there's the treatment of voices, almost always those of women, foregrounded above all else, and treated so that they feel like someone is singing softly right in your ear-- in calm, repetitive, uncomplicated chants. The effect is such that it's hard to imagine anyone listening to this music when not alone. Couples, maybe. Crowds, parties-- how?
The amazing thing, then, is that Defever's musical world is anything but insular, anything but stuck in that corner. Some of his influences are unsurprising: The slurry, ghostly pop His Name Is Alive made for 4AD has run toward shoegazing and electronics, Beach Boys worship, and dub experiment. Some of the other sources are more remarkable than Defever gets credit for. He grew up in the orbit of Detroit and learned guitar from his grandfather; he has old-time music in him, not as a curiosity but as a presence: folk, country, blues, and gospel, from 1950 backward. The fact that his project is no longer with that arty English label may even have something to do with their last two albums-- on which Defever quietly and unselfconsciously set about making collections of blues and soul music. None of this is pastiche, or dabbling, or borrowing styles-- each of these threads winds its way naturally into that private world. You probably wouldn't hear a His Name Is Alive song and describe it as "blues"; you'd spend hours with it before realizing how strange it would be to call it anything else.
All of this is truer than ever on Detrola, the group's first full-length in four years, and their first since leaving 4AD. Every one of those sounds runs through here, woven together so naturally that the weaving itself is the furthest thing from the listener's mind: This sounds like absolutely nothing but a His Name Is Alive record, and one too shockingly good to go thinking much about constituent parts.
Its bookends are dirges, laments-- a fiddled spiritual on "Introduction" ("The darkest night I ever saw was the night I left my love") and folk blues on "I'll Send My Face to Your Funeral" ("I've seen too many things I couldn't stand to see"). In between, the most remarkable things happen. There's the same lulling, hypnotic tone that's always made the band an indie affair-- the same soft-spoken beauty as fellow private types like Red House Painters. But there's plenty more. "After I Leave U" makes pop from synthesizers that's anything but synth-pop; too brittle and strange, and too natural, so that the eventual appearance of a vocorder still feels fiercely alien. "Seven Minutes" is brittle r&b, shot through with free-jazz saxophone runs, as voiced by Lovetta Pippen, one of three women singing on this record. "Get Your Curse On", the record's emotional peak, is also its uplift, a swinging piano-pop bounce that feels like Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick in a sexual battle of wills: They defend ("Your ju-ju comes in short supply/ Your curse won't work on me this time") and they attack ("I could turn you on so fast/ Your heart, your heart, your hands, your hands").
It's a short record-- just under 40 minutes-- and better for it; the second half sweeps you effortlessly along to that final dirge. "C*A*T*S" is electro-pop hypnosis, shuffling along on two chords, mutating drum breaks, and meowing synths. "You Need a Heart" shoots back to the sweet, delicate sonic candy of 1996's Stars on ESP, the peak of Defever's Beach Boys fixation. "I Thought I Saw", closer to the start, is doing either Memphis soul or Steely Dan southern-California studio action; it hardly seems to matter which.
What matters is that Defever is doing exactly what we've always claimed to want from musicians. His world is his own, unique and uniquely stylized, describable less in terms of genre and more in terms of impressions: snow, transistor radios, empty rooms, sepia tones, dreams. More importantly, his world is large: There are wide ranges of the history of American music in here, whether exhibited or just acknowledged. He's cloistered, but he's not a solipsist. On Detrola, the music feels as private as ever; you'll come to this exhibit one at a time, and it's still too particular in its tastes to imagine a large audience for it. But it's fantastic art, full of depth and warmth and creativity. It's probably the best thing Defever's ever done.
-Nitsuh Abebe, February 7, 2006
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