Label/Year: ECM, 2017
Lineup – Stephan Micus: balanzykom, nyckelharpa, voice, zither, bass zither, shakuhachi, steel string guitar, genbri.
Avant-world music continues to thrive in the person of Stephan Micus, a solitary German multi-instrumentalist, traveler, and inveterate sound explorer whose idiosyncratic new album, Inland Sea, brings us wintry tones and lyrical practices from afar.
This eclectic composer has been recording almost exclusively for the ECM (this one is his 22nd) and each of his opuses tells a quirky musical journey pretty much unlooked-for and deeply heartfelt.
Micus, alone, plays six distinguished instruments from different regions of the globe and also sings, layering the sounds with acuity and building entrancing textures that draw beauty, sadness, and mystery alike.
On the opening tune, “Haze”, he strums the balanzykom, a rare Tajik seven nylon string lute used in Sufi ceremonies, with melancholic affinity, while the laments of the nyckelharpa, a Swedish bowed instrument, take us to bucolic landscapes where ostentation is nothing and life is everything.
The crepuscular “Sowing Wind” sounds like a cry coming from secluded mountains, where the wind carries tearful words through the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, which can be heard again on the transcendental “Reaping Storm”. The latter is introduced by bass zither whose bent strings produce a long, profound, and reverberating drone, simultaneously astonishing and arcane.
While “Dawn” and “Dusk” are exclusively shaped by three nyckelharpas each, acquiring a neo-classical chamber feel, “Dancing Clouds” is meticulously arranged through the juxtaposition of several instruments whose folk melodies, even if still dramatic, show signs of optimism and perseverance.
There are three vocalized pieces that probably will make your hair stand on end. They are “Flor Del Sur”, a ceremonial nomadic-style chant, “Virgen de La Mar”, composed of three genbri and sixteen polyphonic voices, and “Nuria”, the most enchanting piece on the recording, an idyllic ancient call that floats with acceptance and abandonment. Even not understanding the lyrics, I had the prayerful instinct of thanking for my life. It’s an outstanding conclusion of another remarkable body of work whose emotional emphasis suggests us to acknowledge the world as one.
Extremely scenic in its rustic descriptions, Inland Sea comes overflowing with sonic pleasures. It comprises ten hymns whose simplicity of expression hits you with the force of nature at the same time that offers you dollops of erudition.
I wish you a pleasant spiritual meditation!
02 – Sowing Wind ► 05 – Reaping Storm ► 10 – Nuria