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JoŰl BONS (b. 1952)
Nomaden (2015-16) for cello and ensemble
Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello)
Atlas Ensemble/Ed Spanjaard
rec. live and studio, 2016, Amsterdam Muziekgebouw, The Netherlands
SACD/CD Hybrid, Stereo/Surround 5.0, reviewed in surround
BIS BIS2073 SACD [61.35]

Eclectic is the word used to describe this curious composition. It certainly does live up to the billing of a multicultural effort. There can be no doubting the skill and enthusiasm of those involved in its performance nor any doubt as to the magnificent recording they have been given by BIS. As one unused to this sort of music I can do little more than describe what I heard and what little I understand of it.

There are 38 tracks of which eight are entitled Nomaden - Nomads. The cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras is perceived as a traveller around the many musical traditions brought together by this ensemble. He engages in a musical dialogue with each of the groups he encounters before moving on to the next. Amongst the unusual instruments present are the wind instruments shakuhachi, duduk, sho and sheng. Percussion visitors include the tombak. Strings include the setar, tar, erhu, kamancha, kemenše and sarangi. Western strings, wind and percussion are also present. Some of these instruments add tonal richness and depth to the sounds, others stand out as clearly very different. Many have the opportunity for jam sessions and there are times when the music becomes very lively indeed. In that respect there is much fun to be had listening. Each of the Nomadens are the same basic material but differently presented on each occasion. There are static passages separating the more complex or lively sections.

The notes by the ensemble themselves go into a lot of valuable detail about the instruments as well as the intercultural purpose of their work. The notes, though long and complex, are always clear so the listener has a good chance to getting more than just an hour-long wall of sound from listening. The cellist needs no introduction, being firmly established in the more traditional classical repertoire. Nothing is subject to electronic manipulation, all the instruments are 'natural' in that sense.

Yes, I enjoyed it. Would I be likely to go back to it? Possibly not very often. For me this is respect from a distance. Those interested are urged to give it a try.

As an aside, this is the first SACD from BIS to be issued in their new eco-packaging. As it says: "This sleeve is made of FSC/PEFC-certified material with soy ink, eco-friendly glue and water based varnish. It is easy to recycle, and no plastic is used." I know BIS are proud of this effort and stress it costs them more to use this packaging than the traditional plastic case. It is effectively like the old gate-fold LP on a smaller scale. The disc (plastic perforce) and the notes are up to their usual high standards. So well done BIS!
Dave Billinge

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