What first attracted me to this recording was the presence of Shahzad Ismaily, the New York-based multi-instrumentalist whose playing, composing and arranging skills have made him a valued contributer to projects by so many musicians it’s impossible to list them all. But they span the likes of Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, Carla Bozulich, Eyvind Kang, John Zorn, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and Jolie Holland, which is where I first heard his work.
That’s why I watched the video for the first single off of Nous II, for “Nighten Gale,” which you can see below. It sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. It’s heavy on strings, especially cello, as well as piano, with some electronic instruments adding texture and effects. Christopher Bono, the group’s founder and “curator” brought this piece as a simple “lead sheet” of chord progressions into the studio and let the nine musicians who played on this piece have at it. From this, these musicians created what the album’s publicity one-sheet aptly describes as “a sweeping new-classical sonic Ark that journeys through contrasting peaks of heavy and gentle dramatic moments.”
Nous is a New York-based experimental music project with a fluctuating group of artists “exploring ritual and spontaneity.” The core of the group on this and their first release Nous in 2018 are multi-instrumentalists Christopher Bono (keyboards, electronics, percussion, vocals), Greg Fox (drums, percussion, electronics), Thor Harris (drums, percussion), Ismaily (electronics, guitar, bass) and Grey Mcmurray (guitar). They’re joined by guests on strings, ambient sounds and other stuff, including some members of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble.
The rest of the nine tracks on Nous II are in a similar vein: improvised instrumental works that seamlessly blend acoustic and electronic instruments and percussion. The pieces range from the more or less melodic, like “Nighten Gale” and the closing piece “Assume A Sunbeam” to more groove-oriented tracks like the opener, the EDM-adjacent “Look Again At That Dot” and the piano-driven “Here In My Chest It Is What It Is,” which even has bongos; to more ambient works like “Uthando” and “Formless” to post-rock noise like “World Map One.” The tracks flow seamlessly one into the next.
This is the second in a trio of releases planned by the group with material culled from seven days of intense sessions at the legendary Dreamland Studios in the Woodstock, New York area, produced by Kevin McMahon. You can listen to more tracks and order it at Bandcamp.
(Our Silent Canvas, 2019)