Otto, Nomo | Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park | International | Chicago Reader

Otto, Nomo All Ages Critic's Choice Early Warnings (Music) Free Recommended Soundboard

When: Mon., Aug. 17, 6:30 p.m. 2009

Though his early-90s stints as an auxiliary member of pioneering manguebeat combos like Mundo Livre S/A and Chico Science & Nacao Zumbi certainly deserve a mention in his bio, Brazilian singer Otto has long since gone his own way, embracing an even more famously omnivorous style—tropicalia—and then branching out from there. His excellent fourth album, Certa Manha Acordei de Sonhos Intranquilos (due next month from Nublu Records), draws liberally from reggae, electronica, and surf rock, all of it energized with a full complement of Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian rhythms; meanwhile his songwriting continues to veer toward romantic pop. He’s already covered “Pra Ser So Minha Mulher,” a late-70s hit by Brazil’s king of cheesy love songs, Roberto Carlos—his version boils off the treacle and adds rhythmic muscle—and many of the tunes on the new album are even more powerfully and nakedly emotional. He gives the bombastic “6 Minutos,” which easily could’ve been a mawkish power ballad, a similarly no-nonsense treatment that makes it flat-out exhilarating, and on two gorgeous duets with Mexican pop star Julieta Venegas he modulates his bearish voice to blend perfectly with the raspy sweetness of hers. Otto’s killer band includes wildly versatile Cidadao Instigado guitarist Fernando Catatau and the percussion-heavy rhythm section of Nacao Zumbi, who keep the arrangements full of surprises—and Catatau is part of the seven-piece touring group he brings to Chicago. As Otto proved when he made his local debut three years ago, he’s absolutely magnetic onstage, so absorbed in the thrill of the show that he radiates charisma even when he’s doing things that would make lesser performers look foolish.

There’s no mistaking the galloping Afrobeat groove on the title track to Nomo’s latest album, Invisible Cities (Ubiquity), but this superb Ann Arbor-based instrumental group ventures farther afield from the music of Fela Kuti with each release. They cover the quirky Tom Ze tune “Ma,” replicating the puzzle-piece contruction of its interlocking riffs, and on the entrancing “Crescent” bandleader Elliot Bergman improvises searching bamboo-flute melodies atop shimmering electric kalimbas, hand claps, and congas. There’s a lot of soloing—Bergman’s tenor work is particularly gripping—but what’s really special is the ensemble sound, which blurs the lines between African music, jazz, and funk, using horns, kalimbas, percussion, and the occasional guitar to create fluid grids of precisely layered rhythms.

—Peter Margasak

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