Album Review: Nomade Orquestra – Vox Populi Vol 1 / Vox Machina Vol 1 [June 2019 / October 2019]

A quartet that has since swollen into a decet from their beginnings in 2012, Brazilian band Nomade Orquestra musicians pride themselves on stretching far and beyond their jazz roots to create a sound that’s hard to pinpoint, but inclusive of various cultures across the world. Last year they released two LPs, Vox Populi Vol 1 (released on 14th June 2019) and Vox Machina Vol 1 (put out on 25th October 2019).

Both LPs contain eight tracks, and whilst the main difference between the pair is that Vox Populi contains vocalists, it would be inaccurate to say that Vox Machina is a completely instrumental version of its counterpart. Instead, both albums can be thought of as two alternative realities, connecting pairs of songs that share melody lines applied differently in terms of pitch, timbre or tempo.

Russo  Passapusso (Baiana System), Juçara Marçal (Metá Metá), Siba (Mestre Ambrósio) and Edgar (O Novissimo Edgar) feature throughout Vox Populi, each playing different characters that help direct the musical narratives being told to the audiences. Opening with Edgar in “Ocidentes Acontecem”, you feel like you are being introduced to a twisted circus. Russo has a gravel-like quality to his voice as he raps in the aptly titled “Agente Russo”: as if he is warning us of something imminent.

In contrast, Juçara plays a more mediating role as she plays to her strengths in “Eró Iroko” and “Poeta Penso”. In the latter, the closing track, she progresses from soft coos to staccato interjections that play through the song’s ending syncopated rhythms to reach a satisfying conclusion, perfect for a summer’s sunset.

In Vox Machina, the absence of vocals means it’s much easier to get lost in the music, as the musicians have fewer constraints to limit their freedoms. For instance, when comparing “Constante Mesmice” with “Bepolar” – the most recognisable pair across the tracklists – the latter takes a more wild, freeform jazz turn in the middle of the song that is more gratifying in isolation.

“Agente Laranja” feels riddled with paranoia and bewilderment as the brass, woodwind and bass sections clash. There are some conventional moments such as “Segundo Instante”, in which the Orquestra wanders into bluesy territory, or the swan song “Horizonto Manso”, but the musical freedom can sometimes impede on potential catharsis as a listener, leaving you more intrigued rather than enamoured by what you’re hearing.

If you’re looking for something more accessible and easier to sink into, Vox Populi is the one for you. If, however, you need to be let loose, then delve into the beautiful chaos that is Vox Machina. Either way, nothing can take away from Nomade Orquestra’s ability to continue challenging themselves and diversifying their output.