Jazz CD Reviews

Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin – Holon – ECM

"James Brown jamming with Steve Reich perhaps?"

Published on February 7, 2008

Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin – Holon – ECM
Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin – Holon – ECM B0010526-02, 55:12 ***** [Release date: Feb. 5, 08]:

(Nik Bärtsch, piano; Sha: bass & contrabass clarinets/alto sax; Björn Meyer, doublebass; Kaspar Rast, drums; Andi Pupato, percussion)

Bärtsch is a Swiss pianist who reversed the usual pedagogical order and began jazz piano study at age 7, only getting into classical at age 16.  He quickly became interested in modern composition, especially John Cage, Morton Feldman and Steve Reich. He started his band Ronin as a trio in 2001. It is based on a percussion model, with three percussion instruments in the present quintet – Bärtsch considers the piano a percussion instrument.  The group is touring the U.S. beginning at the PDX Jazz Festival in Portland, Oregon Feb. 23 and concluding at the San Francisco Jazz Festival on March 7.

The six tracks of the CD – ranging from six minutes to 15 – are each titled Modul plus a number such as 42. The minimalist influence is naturally very strong, but so is a carefully-constructed funk feeling and an intensity that belies the seemingly simple and repetitive figures. Track 4, for example, is some super minimalist jazz with a very Miles Davisish groove, but without the trumpet.  The next track features the clarinet in a Middle Eastern-sounding melody, and the closing sixth track sports a compelling ostinato figuration on the contrabass clarinet plus some body-moving percussion. Shameless quotation of some previous jazz reviewers might elucidate even further Bärtch’s highly individual style which he has dubbed “Zen-funk:” “…funk played by man-sized, infinitely patient spiders.” “…minimal in construction but delivering a visceral punch.” “James Brown jamming with Steve Reich perhaps?”

TrackList: Modul 42, Modul 41_17, Modul 39_8, Modul 46, Modul 45, Modul 44.

– John Henry

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