Nessa’s new album explores an “Otherworld” as well as our own
The third album from Ann Arbor's Nessa showcases an ensemble remaining true to its roots while stretching out thematically.
Led by flutist/vocalist Kelly McDermott, the band continues to develop its own particular strain of Celtic-inspired world music. And on the new album, Otherworld, that sound serves to explore two specific themes: of women finding truth and a prayer for the planet.
Joining McDermott in the core band are Rob Crozier on bass and other instruments; Dan Palmer, guitars; Mike List, percussion; Rick Beamon, drums; and Brian Brill, keyboards. Brill and McDermott produced the record.
The album opens with a composition about another world and devotes its second half to an “Elemental Suite” celebrating our own world. The title track is a haunting, flute-led instrumental that sets the stage for what’s to come. Thoughtful and enchanting, it effectively suggests the idea of another dimension. Written by Crozier, “RGB Reel” -- inspired by Ruther Bader Ginsburg -- showcases his expert bass playing. Dan Palmer’s “Buiochas” is a beautiful take on Irish jazz.
The music on Otherworld is largely original compositions, but the band also weaves in reinventions of traditional songs, further extending the notion of both staying rooted and reaching out. “Sovay” is mellow and jazzy, while “Wraggle Taggle Gypsies” has an almost reggae feel. And “Stitch in Time” even manages to successfully work in rap elements.
The four parts of the closing suite each evoke their particular element. “Air for St. Brigid” features gorgeous wordless vocals; “Singing Waters” uses water sounds and a flute that suggests a flowing river. “Fire Dance” takes listeners from embers to a roaring blaze.
McDermott answered a few questions about the new album via email.
Q: The album combines two distinct themes, “womankind finding her truth” and “a prayer for our beautiful planet.” Both could be considered very timely yet also timeless. What else ties these themes together for you?
A: I knew it was time for another Nessa album. In deep meditation I did not just want a collection of my favorite tunes; I wanted something to offer the planet and humanity. I am very into social justice and the environment. I wanted to narrow down the many themes that are relevant today, so I chose "Empowering Women" and the quintessential woman, "Our Mother Earth."
Q: Do you approach traditional songs like these differently than you do original compositions? That is, how do you go about making them your own, which you’ve done so successfully here?
A: Original compositions and arrangements have a similar process. The melody, harmony, rhythm, feel, and textures "come through." We really change many components of the traditional songs. It is not thought out or contrived; it just naturally evolves. I love unusual harmonies, so I often change the original harmonies with funky jazz-9 chords, etc. I often change the lyrics to support women, and we change the feel (i.e., if the tune is in 3/4 we change it to 4/4 to rock out a bit).
Q: What inspired the creation of the “Elemental Suite”?
A: I have a desire for people to slow down and have the opportunity to visualize and pray for the air, water, fire, and earth.
Q: The album explores another world, and it closes with a prayer for our own. What do you hope listeners take away from the album as a whole?
A: I hope that people will feel transported yet connected. Otherworld is a dimension right here on earth in nature. The lakes, trees and the mist. I want people to feel the mystery and the miracles right here before us.
Bob Needham is a freelance writer and the former arts & entertainment editor of The Ann Arbor News and AnnArbor.com.