Lars Bartkuhn, Nomad  
Lars Bartkuhn
Label: Rush Hour
Release Year: 2024
Style: House
  Back in 2016, Lars Bartkuhn was on a quest to expand his musical horizons. Inspired by the idea of the desert as a transformative place – an alien environment whose combination of vastness and beauty challenges those lost within it to first find themselves before they can find a way out – he loaded up his sampler with sub-Saharan samples and set about making two 12” singles, ‘Nomad’ and ‘Massai’, which subsequently appeared on Utopia Records.

Following completion of work on his 2023 album Dystopia, a conceptual ambient meditation built around electronic and acoustic improvisations, the German musician and producer decided to return to the core ideas that inspired those two 12” singles. Once again, he wanted to challenge himself, explore the more exotic side of his musical influences, and discover a course through the musical desert to ultimately become a better musician, producer, and composer.

The result is Nomad, an album that not only brings together two sides of his work – the immersive ambient explorations at the heart of Dystopia, and the club-focused rhythms that marked out his early career deep house explorations – but also draws on a familiar palette of influences, from Latin jazz-fusion and the deep jazz brilliance of ECM Records releases, to the ‘fourth world’ works of Jon Hassell and the African music that had initially inspired the ‘Nomad’ and ‘Massai’ singles.

Searching from the start for a more ‘analogue’ sound – hand percussion, kalimba, piano, voice, bass guitar, acoustic and electric guitars, alongside the modular synth sounds that were such a part of Dystopia – Bartkuhn combined improvisational and traditional composition techniques, painstaking editing, tweaking and reworking tracks over an extended period.

Added to impeccable sound design – even the more dancefloor-focussed excursions are optimised for headphone listening – the results are startling, even by Bartkuhn’s impressively high standards.

There are, of course, radically reworked versions of previous singles – a sun-kissed, Brazilian jazz-fusion informed re-invention of ‘Transcend’ (where Bartkuhn offers nods to another musical hero, Pat Metheny), an expansive, solo-laden take on ‘Nomad’ and a ambient inspired re-recording of ‘Massai’ – plus the kaleidoscopic brilliance of 2021’s ‘Every Morning I Meditate’, but far more never-before-heard highlights.

There’s the 6/8 time, Latin-tinged sunshine of ‘Back To My Innerself’, a track built on organic performances that were improvised straight into the sequencer; the meandering, densely layered sound world that is ‘Flame’ (a tribute to ECM recordings of the 1970s); the lightly techno-influenced fourth world futurism of ‘Ghibliman’; the organic deep house bliss of ‘African Skies’, where Bartkuhn’s vocalisations come to the fore; and the slow-motion ambient house of ‘First Kalimba’.

Nomad, then, is an album that effortlessly showcases Bartkuhn’s unique musical personality and ability to craft warm, colourful sound worlds – some rhythmic, others not so much – while neatly sidestepping categorization. It could well be his strongest and most personal musical statement yet.
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