Fireworks and Fiery Works
Costa Mesa’s Freedom Festival and the haunting sounds of NOMO
FREEDOM CELEBRATED, COSTA MESA-STYLE
What a strange coincidence: Two weeks after three venues in Santa Ana joined forces to form the monthly Posse on Broadway event (see Sprawl of Sound, June 20), three establishments in Costa Mesa are triangulating on July 4 to inaugurate the Freedom Festival.
Brett Walker, founder/director of eVocal, catalyzed the idea of collaborating with neighbors Avalon Bar and Detroit Bar (all located in close proximity on West 19th Street) to celebrate America’s 232nd birthday (honestly, the country doesn’t look a day over 190).
“The scene’s erupting here, and we want to help put this area on the map as a destination point for the arts of all forms,” Walker says. “We’re showcasing these little niche communities that are forming within the creative-arts community in Costa Mesa. We want to reiterate the potential of all the venues that are right here, collaborating together to do stuff like this more often.”
Walker, who’s from South Africa, relates that he’s carrying out a concept hatched by the late Avalon owner Mike Conley. “He believed in us and gave us a hand up,” Walker says about the well-respected ex-punk rocker/entrepreneur who died in February. “He owned the building we’re in. This is a special day because it’s also a vision that he had prior to us even meeting, for the area manifesting to reality.”
Detroit’s owners initially were a bit leery about Freedom Festival, as the club traditionally closes for the holiday, but eventually they came around. “It seemed like a perfect opportunity to pitch them the idea and show them the benefits of us all working together,” Walker says. “We’ve always been working with the Avalon. Since Mike passed, we’ve been working more proactively with booking events. Now we hope to be collaborating more often at Detroit. They just presented us with an offer to do a monthly Thursday night over there. It looks like it’s heading in the right direction.”
Among the performers at Freedom Festival are The Growlers, My Pet Saddle, Zookeepers, The American Gypsies, Pawn Shop Kings, Japanese Motors, Giants Under the Sun, Gantez Warrior, Howl, Dolphin City, Will Crum, The Sweet Sweet Things and The Mystery Lights. There will also be live painting, a mural production with some graffiti artists and art on display, all executed by locals such as Jesse Miller, Derek Leitch, Damet 1, Blair Urban, Warren Heard, Will Koffman, Theo Hetherington, Mike Kirshner, Dino Mayorga, Pinky Taylor, Joel Williams, Matt Adams, Alex Knost, Big Toe and others.
Finally,Killafornia crew members 911 and Lil Rock will be hosting breakdance-exhibition battles, which will reportedly include some of the world’s best B-boys.
NOMO’S GHOST ROCK
NOMO’s 2006 album, New Tones (Ubiquity), fell solidly in the tradition of Fela Kuti’s Africa ’70, minus the call-and-response vocals. The nine-piece Ypsilanti, Michigan, ensemble created serpentine, percussion-heavy tracks with loose, jazzy brass and polychromatic vibraphone runs that funked you up in that peculiarly uplifting Nigerian way (think James Brown’s early-’70s extended workouts with a slight hitch in their gait).
As far as Fela homages go, New Tones is one of the best. But one of these is enough. It would be stultifying to grind out another militant Afrobeat salute to the late bandleader/statesman of the Kalakuta Republic. Ergo, the new GhostRock (released June 17 on Costa Mesa’s Ubiquity), which is a great leap forward for NOMO.
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Led by Elliot Bergman (tenor sax, bass clarinet, keyboards), NOMO have added more hues to their palette on Ghost Rock. In fact, the first sound you hear on the disc-opening “Brainwave” could be those piercing electronic pings from a ’60s-era university-affiliated composer tinkering with a Buchla synthesizer. The piece gradually shifts into some mantric, Can-like funk. “All the Stars” continues the rhythmic hypnosis—with robust aid from renowned ethno-jazz percussionists Hamid Drake and Adam Rudolph—with a dope, undulating cut that sounds like Congotronics masters Konono Nº1 jamming with Fourth World ambient trumpeter Jon Hassell.
“Round the Way” reverts back to Fela default mode, but it’s mellow, postcoital Fela, which is a rare treat. “Rings” features spectral vibes gyrating in an aptly cyclical riff while the drummer beats out a weird but riveting meter and the brass sighs with elegance. “My Dear” boasts rousing horn figures and a percolating, unstoppable forward momentum that would make it ideal theme music for Barack Obama as he strides to the podium to make momentous speeches. I’m serious—this shit just screams VICTORY in stentorian tones. “Ghost Rock” is almost as bold and brassy, a massive, molten slab of Dark Continent jazz-funk. “Nova” sounds like pygmy rainforest funk from Saturn, its warped electric kalimbas and flute (or is it a piccolo?) congealing into a tone poem of otherworldly beauty. It’s a captivating conclusion to one of the year’s most enjoyable albums.