Stephan Micus ‘Nomad Songs’ (ECM) 3/5

stephan_micusECM has rightly established a reputation for esoteric fusion of world folk sounds and albums of the calibre of ‘Making Music’ and ‘Ragas and Sagas’ remain perennial favourites while a variety of albums by the likes of Egberto Gismonti and Codona equally spring to mind. Now a seasoned performer for the label with some twenty plus albums to date, Stephan Micus explores the sounds of the ndingo (Botswana), genbri and bass lute (Morocco), the Egyptian nay, central Asian rewab as well as flutes from both Ireland and Japan. The virtuosity required to first envisage and then execute this project with an array of instrumentation is beyond doubt and the sound is never more haunting than on the strongest piece, ‘The Fest’, where nay and guitars combine thrillingly. Likewise there is a gentle, lilting quality to the sound of the Balinese reed flute on ‘Suling’. In general there is something of a quasi-monasterial ambience to the music that is at once meditational and reflective and on a piece such as ‘The Blessing’, adopts a medieval tone. With the Botswanian ndingo, a sound akin to the percussive kalimba is created and this is used delicately on ‘The Spring’. Each of Micus’ albums has a distinct character to them with the previous release, ‘Panagia’, having music based around the prayers of the Virgin Mary.

Multi-instrumentalist Stephan Micus is to be applauded for this latest project which was recorded over two years between 2012 and 2014 and is a personal exploration of stringed instruments and varieties of flute from around the globe. All the compositions, music and voicings are by Micus, but one cannot buy help wondering whether the project itself would have been enhanced by some external presence and this in spite of a definite and deliberate attempt by Micus to vary formats. On some pieces not an awful lot sonically seems to be happening and on a specific number such as ‘Laughing at thunder’, the five genbri are barely audible. However, it is probably true to say that below the surface there is more going on and repeated listens are required to soak up the subtle influences. Liner notes courtesy of Songlines contributor Simon Broughton hint strongly at the album being aimed primarily at a world roots audience, though the music is accessible to all, and especially to anyone with an interest in how folk instruments combine.

Tim Stenhouse