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Stephan Micus: On the Wing (2007)

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Stephan Micus: On the Wing How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Stephan Micus is a German-born multi-instrumentalist and inveterate ethnic musicologist. He currently resides in Majorca where, aside from the splendid climate, the airport is well-equipped and prepared to take the adventuresome traveler almost anywhere at any time. Micus utilizes the latter frequently in planning his musical landscapes.

Micus has traveled extensively throughout Asia and Europe and, in doing so, has accumulated an arsenal of exotic instruments. He does not, however, seek to replicate the literal music tradition of a particular region. Rather, Micus absorbs the textures and ideas of the vernacular musical expression, and seeks to place the same within the context of his own unique improvising framework.

On the Wing is the first album in seventeen years where he does not utilize his voice. Micus' many instruments include, but are not limited to, the sattar (a long necked bowed instrument used by the Uigurs, a Turkman people from Western China), sho (a Japanese mouth organ consisting of seventeen reed pipes), suling (a hollow reed flute of the Balinese Gamelan orchestra), shakuhachi (a Japanese bamboo flute with five holes and no mouthpiece), classical and steel string guitars, sitar, and a bevy of Tibetan cymbals and gongs. That Micus is able to play each instrument is remarkable. That he successfully blends this panoply of diverse instruments into a series of multi-tracked coherent statements is, quite simply, stunning.

Where some selections are clearly informed by a far Eastern perspective, others contain a Middle Eastern sound. There is some Irish musical influence. The listener should not seek a clear musical foundation. Merely note the composition titles and, with your mind, imagine the tone poem that Micus has sketched for the audience.

The record is the type of production at which ECM excels, and which drives those listeners already critical of the label's aesthetic into fits. Is it jazz? Is it world music? Does it swing? Who knows and, quite frankly, who really cares. Micus' efforts of expressing himself within the vocabulary of an ethnic imperative are remarkable. Anouar Brahem, the Tunisian oud virtuoso, is another ECM stalwart who combines his instrument's eastern Middle Eastern textures and places them within the framework of his own extemporaneous exploration of improvisation. Brahem's ability to flirt with French Musette and Moorish influences, and back again, confounds some listeners, just as Micus' music almost surely will.

This record is, in short, a welcome addition to Micus' ECM discography. Those predisposed to think in terms of musical definitions and boundaries should listen attentively. One can learn how a musical mind travels, and is subsequently rewarded, when thoughts are not so limited.

Track Listing: On the Wing; Winterlight; Gazelle; Blossoms in the Wind; The Bride; Ancient Trees; In the Dancing Snow; The Gate; Turquoise Fields; Morning Sky.

Personnel: Stephan Micus: sattar (1, 2, 4, 7, 9); mudbedsh (1, 5, 7); classical guitar (3); nay (3, 9); sho (4); hn (4, 9, 10); suling (3, 9); Tibetan cymbals (5); Korean gong (5); Burmese gong (5); hang (5); 14-string guitar (5); steel-string guitar (5, 9); shakuhachi (5, 6); mandobahar (6); sitar (8).

Record Label: ECM Records

Style: Beyond Jazz


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