Experimental music composer Christopher Bono is a busy man. This latest recording from his Nous ensemble already his second release of 2020. (The first was from his all-acoustic ambient drone Tsyphur Zalan project.) It follows multiple releases in 2019 including the first two in this first incarnation of the Nous ensemble’s three-part series of genre-blending post-everything jazzy noise-rock. He plans more albums this year including a new Nous lineup.
Bono is a serious and respected composer of modern classical music. From what I’ve read, his approach to classical is similar to the more pop-adjacent work of Nous, in that it seems sui generis while also touching on numerous cultural and artistic reference points. Nous is described as genre exploration, and it indeed dabbles in krautrock, psychedelia, groove, noise jazz and minimalist rock.
The core ensemble with Bono are Greg Fox on drums and percussion, Grey McMurray on guitar and voice, Shahzad Ismaily on guitar, bass, keys and more, and Thor Harris on multiple instrument, mostly percussion. All play multiple instruments in many styles and they’re generally New York-based, though Harris is from Texas and has been involved in antifa activism there. They’re joined by guests from the New York classical music scene on violin, cello, flutes and more: Clarice Jensen, Caleb Burhans, Laura Lutzke, Alex Sopp, Imago, and Akil Davis.
NOUS III follows a similar pattern in the opening tracks to that of NOUS II – a driving rocker followed by a couple more or less ambient selections, then alternating between the two types, with lots of crossover. “We Hope The Weather Will Continue” is a six-and-a-half-minute blast of minimalist rock, with the straight-up hard-rocking kit perched out front of a bed of polyrhythmic percussion and a one-note bass line, punctuated occasionally by flute and blasts of industrial guitar noise. “Ninths” is a minimalist piano-synthesizer reverie that builds into a soaring anthem of piano, synths and drums; “A Falling Tear” is a short, quietly intense piece featuring guest Laura Lutzke on violin and a lot of percussive and ambient noise.
I find three tracks particularly arresting – well, in addition to the stirring opener. “Blush” is a truly mesmerizing and enjoyable piece with layers of drone from numerous instruments and wordless vocals over a jazz-rock fusion beat. And the two closing tracks are truly amazing works. First “Chandra” starts with a low pulsing synth and tapping percussion, building into an episodic 13-plus-minute piece heavily featuring violin, and percussion both live and looped. It crescendoes to a dense wall of sound before fading into the final track “Kindness.” This one is a true experiment in minimalism, consisting for much of its 14 minutes of a repeated, slow four-note motif on piano, each time with slight variations. By about the mid-point some plaintive wordless vocals have entered along with some high-pitched keyboard drones which eventually take over the piece, driving out the piano motif. For audiences accustomed to the pop pattern of tension and release, this is all tension, building eventually to a storm of noise that never really resolves, only fades away.
Up next for Nous will be one more release for this incarnation, pairing it with the American ambient music legend Laraaji. Then a new Nous ensemble featuring more players from the jazz scene. Should be interesting, as always.
(Our Silent Canvas, 2020)