Juno Records – Review
“German combo Onom Agemo & The Disco Jumpers may be tricky to pin down musically, but their releases are rarely anything less than inspired. Certainly, new album “Magic Polaroid” is rather special, with the Berlin-based outfit giddily hammering elements of Afrobeat, jazz, spoken word, Latin beats, highlife, and punk-funk into ear-pleasing new shapes. Highlights are plentiful, and include – but are not limited to – the Rip, Pig and Panic style madness of “Welcome Eko”, the Moog-laden Afro-Jazz sunshine of “Magic Polaroid”, the dancing sax riffs and chiming melodies of super-sweet closing cut “Super Cranes”, and the heady intoxication that is album opener “Trumpets of Denmark”.”
Ever since Onom Agemo & The Disco Jumpers broke the dreaded curse of the difficult second album by releasing “Liquid Love”, a cocktail so spicy and delectable that it could warm the cockles of the grumpiest man alive’s heart, even in the most Arctic conditions, everybody wondered how the Onom crew could top that one. But now you have an opportunity to whip out your “Magic Polaroid” as proof that this wasn’t an impossible Project. Never before has the band so successfully captured their full-on live sound as they do here, thanks to three days of recording frenzy at Daniel Nentwig and Sebastian Maschat’s Butterama studio, a haven of analog hardware hidden in a remote part of Berlin’s Neukölln district. The exploding kaleidoscope of styles that make up this album, perfectly reflected by the stunning cover artwork from Nick Henderson and photography by Christoph Rothmeier, means that they can no longer be confined to their early description as an “Afro-Funk Quintet” or merely described as a lively tribute to the artists which have influenced them: their sound is 100 per cent pure uncut Onom Agemo, even though every track feels like a new beginning. The presence of a charismatic in-house vocalist who brought her own lyrics along has also boosted their confidence considerably and provided a further knock-out punch to their onstage performances.
And no one will be disappointed as soon as the first bars of “The Trumpets Of Denmark” stomp on stage like a boisterous fanfare, with Johannes Schleiermacher’s impressive wall of sound production making the musicians sound like a much bigger band than what their line-up suggests (with Maria Schneider from Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra adding some extra percussive clout) and just the right amount of dizzying cross-rhythms to steer it away from potential bombast. When Onom Agemo’s powerhouse vocalist Natalie Greffel starts chanting what at first sounds like a string of Onomatopoeia, it soon becomes clear that she’s laying down her manifesto for a nostalgic Space-Age yet to come, with a few key words serving as Mantra (Focus, patience, tears and creation): an invitation to drive off the Information Superhighway and its endless litany of polite noises, to redirect our gaze inside ourselves and learn to understand and sometimes question how others perceive us.
Conceived by bassist Kalle Enkelmann in Morocco on a diet of mandarins and bananas, “Bonne Trance” enthralls with its lush keyboard arrangement and flute interjections, enhanced by the insistent punctuation of qarqabas, those indispensable accessories of Gnawa folklore that recall the sound of castanets, transporting the listener into a virtual hinterland halfway between Essaouira and Andalusia. Not recommended for trance- phobics, but possibly the ideal panacea for dancing away your fears.
Whenever the word „fusion“ crops up in conversation regarding music, perhaps because of its culinary connotations, one tends to be immediately reminded of lukewarm leftovers and excessively fussy presentation. But this notion is quickly dispelled by copping an ear to “Welcome Eko” (which wasn’t named, as one might think, as a tribute to the ancient name of the city of Lagos, but in honour of the Italian manufacturers of middle-range electric instruments that flourished in the mid 60’s and have acquired a cult aura ever since). On this sterling example of trance-fusion in excelsis, our five crack instrumentalists have distilled a particularly potent brand of Ethio-Gamelan laced with guitarist Kalle Zeier’s razor-sharp riffs.
In this age of immediate gratification and digital wizardry, there is something almost quaint but quite moving about the antiquated magic of an instant camera, where the Moment is captured for posterity, with unpredictable fluctuations of picture quality and no possibility of further embellishment (no face-saving Photoshop action allowed here). “Magic Polaroid”, the song, celebrates the recollection of such ephemeral pleasures made possible by this simple, compact device. Johannes Schleiermacher’s unbelievably complex, almost Steve Reich-like arrangement echoes the mysterious chemical reactions that take place during the transfer of that fleeting image on film while Bernd Oezsevim’s driving rhythms propel the song like the pair of rollers that will eventually eject that magic snapshot out of the camera.
Changing pace and shooting back into space, we meet the “Broken Satellites”, the closest the band comes to jazz of a somewhat spiritual nature, albeit with a strongly psychedelic-flavoured intro. Modern society encourages us to fill our bodies and minds with way too much junk, but we tend to forget all the junk that humankind has left behind in space. Natalie Greffel’s inspired performance, ably supported by exuberant sax lines and cascading keyboard runs, hints that as the decommissioned satellites were heading down to crash back on earth, they probably crossed paths with the Voyager Spacecraft, which had been hijacked by extra- terrestrial music fans who, after poring over every detail of that famous Golden Record that came as a surprise package with its contents, had stumbled on a couple of hidden bonus tracks by Abbey Lincoln and Jeanne Lee which fired their imagination.
Finally we arrive at the final stretch of our grand tour, a short stopover on a virtual Côte d’Azur going by the name of “Super Cannes”. The garden party at the Villa has already started, the guests are lounging around the heart-shaped pool but someone has spiked the punch bowl and some torrid activities are about to commence. The soundtrack is provided by that master of improbable juxtapositions, Jörg Hochapfel, who expertly segues the jaunty opening melody with a waltz-tempo groove before bursting into a funkalicious synth solo full of suggestive grunts and squeals. Or maybe that was just the sound of a few unfortunate earthlings being abducted from their jacuzzi by aliens who’d jumped onboard a falling satellite. C’est chaud!