Nomo: hypnotic grooves, but little spontaneity |

Nomo: hypnotic grooves, but little spontaneity

Martine O'Hara
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” The syncopated rhythms and pulses emanating from Belly Up Wednesday night might have led passersby to speculate that the sounds were coming from a funk band from some exotic African location. It was, in fact, Ann Arbor, Mich.-based septet Nomo, making its fourth Aspen appearance, providing the hypnotic beats and melodies that gradually captivated the sparse group of 20-somethings that took to the dance floor.

As if taking cues straight out of the Fela Kuti songbook, Nomo’s exotic tunes were largely centered around a blasting horn section, psychedelic keyboards, driving bass and guitar, and a percussion section styled after a drum circle. A large part of what makes this brand of music so appealing is its ability to be both participatory and spontaneous. While Nomo musically tipped its hat to Afro-funk forerunners like Kuti, it appeared as if their songs were too well-rehearsed, leaving little room for spontaneous exploration. But that didn’t deter the crowd, who’d already tightly laced up their dancing shoes, from indulging in the infectious rhythms of a music that is foreign to Michigan.

In one of the rare unscripted moments of the show, keyboardist/alto sax player Elliot Bergman announced that drummer Dan Piccolo, a staunch sneakers wearer (“He wore sneakers to his own wedding,” Bergman quipped), was persuaded earlier in the day to buy his first pair of boots (at Boogie’s). It was during the sound-check that Piccolo broke his bass pedal (blame it on the boots) and had to borrow a drum set. This allowed for three separate drum set-ups, providing a solid, interwoven percussion section when the three were being utilized. Likewise, at one point, three large conch shells were played, and although they verged on the tacky, the mere novelty factor was enough to keep things interesting.

The undisputed musical leader of the band was the baritone sax player, who frequently went outside of a song’s given key and explored different musical modes, offering up a range of flurried notes that wowed the audience and kept the songs fresh.

The most memorable songs were the ones that didn’t seemed rushed, when the solos flowed organically and smoothly, when the musicians read each other spontaneously in their meticulously planned set. These moments were far and few between, but on the whole most of the audience didn’t seem to mind. Almost every song worked on the same formula ” head/solo/solo/head ” enticing the audience to lock into the perpetual groove, but the songs’ success could only be gauged by the crowd’s response. In large part, it wasn’t until the second half of the show that people started dancing earnestly, but by that point the show had already reached its musical climax, and many of the Wednesday night patrons had begun to disperse. It will be interesting to see how Nomo progresses and finds its own particular niche in the jam-band scene.

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