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Stephan Micus: Bold as Light

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Stephan Micus, a 57-year-old German vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, has recorded for ECM, his country’s most prominent jazz label, since the late ’70s. Bold as Light, his 19th effort for the label, is at times reminiscent of trumpeter Don Cherry’s globalized fusion (think Codona). And on the opening track, “Rain,” Micus echoes the French Quarter melancholia of Sidney Bechet. But does any of this make him a jazz musician? Not necessarily.

Micus sings and plays a variety of instruments from all over the world, and seems unlimited by boundaries other than mellowness and good taste. Labelmate Steve Tibbetts travels similar terrain, which the ungenerous might describe as “new age.” But Marcus’ music feels tangible in a way that new age seldom does. “Flying Swans” features a stark combination of multitracked vocals and an organ-like instrument. If there were such a thing as a group of hip monks, this is what they would sound like.

Actually, despite its obvious reliance on high-tech overdubs, the whole album has a pronounced ascetic quality. Bold as Light, which was recorded in Mallorca, could be the work of someone living far off the grid, where daily rhythms allow for a little zither playing here and some kalimba rattle there. It might not be jazz, but as a dispatch from a more peaceful place, it’s lovely nonetheless.