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Music Review: Stephen Micus – Bold As Light

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What a gorgeous record! Stephen Micus is a composer who specializes in so-called “ancient” instruments. On his latest ECM release Bold As Light, Micus mainly uses the raj nplaim (a free-reed pipe made of bamboo), a nohkan (a bamboo flute), and his own voice – multi-layered for a Gregorian chant effect. It is little wonder that this is his 19th album for the label, the music is uniformly superb, and a soothing tonic for those of us who occasionally need one.

Micus prides himself on being an improviser rather than a composer. “The idea of sitting down at a table and making a composition on paper is totally foreign to me,” he says. “I have to make the sound myself, with the instrument in my hands.”

This idea is spelled out perfectly in the opening track “Rain.“ The song introduces us to the marvelous soft tones of the raj nplaim. Traditionally, the raj nplaim is played solo, but Micus has layered six here for a remarkably brilliant reverberation. “Spring Dance” utilizes two other instruments this renaissance man has designed. The chord zither and the bass zither add a sort of drone sound underlying the melody. Over the top are his wordless chants, which add a glorious Orthodox element to the piece.

“Golden Ginkgo Tree” introduces the stringed kalimba, which sets up something of an African feeling. The Japanese shakuhachi flute he uses to solo over the kalimba basis works extremely well. Another track of note is “The Shrine.” Micus again employs six raj nplaim, and tracks his voice fifteen times. The tune is an elegant illustration of what one man can do with simple instruments and a tape recorder.

“Seven Roses” is the final track, and it again is another marvel. Recalling the best of James Horner in moments, but thoroughly of its composer, this is music to ease the soul unlike any other. Please do not mistake my use of words such as soothing and relaxing to suggest New Age Windham Hill type pandering. Mannfred Eicher’s ECM never panders. If ever one is in the mood for music that calms the soul, yet makes you think — Bold As Light is it.

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