Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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New Tones

With sax blasts and homemade electronics, mostly white eight-piece band takes funk back to Africa

Six horns strong when everybody with brass is blowing, the Ann Arbor-based big band Nomo aren't purists about the Afrobeat at their core. The electro-primitive Congotronics that mark the title song are Nigerian, and leader Elliot Bergman's occasional kalimba is pan-African, but neither connects to Fela Kuti, the Nigerian mastermind of Afrobeat. Both strengthen the tracks they're on, too--working without lead vocals, Nomo sidestep invidious comparisons to Fela's incomparable haranguing, but as a result, their varied funk needs the kind of quick ID-ing that instrumental sound effects provide. So it's to their credit that many pieces are muscular enough to stand on their own. Try the slow-rolling poly-rhythms of "One to One," or the Afro-hard bop reflections of "New Song."

Blender, Oct. 2006