(Nik Bartsch – Piano, Fender Rhodes / Sha – Contrabass and Bass Clarinets / Bjorn Meyer – Bass / Kaspar Rast – Drums / Andi Pupato – Percussion)
During the first two minutes or so after this disc was loaded into my trusty CD player, I was somewhat taken aback. It was basically silence, interrupted about every eight seconds or so by an echoey note. Of course, this led me to think that with a few months of intense practice time, I might be able to develop what it takes to join this particular group if a member quit or something like that. This reverie was absolutely obliterated within the next few minutes as the band members gradually entered the 15:17 track. By the time it had ended I was blown away by the compositional skills of Nik Bartsch and the group empathy of his cohorts. All five selections are originals by the pianist and are quite astonishing. A very general description of the group’s sound would be to say it tends towards intellectualized, repetitive or spare keyboard figures over a sometimes funky-ass, sometimes mightily swingin’, or sometimes minimalist backdrop.
Pianist Bartsch reminds me of Anthony Davis (or at least I think he does as Mr. Davis has largely been absent from the recording scene after a series of tremendous albums in the late 70s and 80s). Relying on my memory, both strike me as similarly intelligent individuals classically-trained. In addition to effectively using repetition, they play in a “spare” fashion, never showing off by speedily overwhelming the listener with a notes-per-second thing. Only on the final track does Bartsch do this – but only at the same portion of the keyboard – not flying all over the place. He’s simply an excellent modern composer and player.
But the band Ronin is an entity – Bartsch like to think of it as an integral organism that thinks with its ears and hands. They have certainly succeeded at that. The bass and percussion meld perfectly with the keyboard. They lay the ideal foundation to be “doodled” over. The concept works superbly. Almost hidden are the contrabass and bass clarinet contributions of Sha, they are so subtle as to be nearly absent. One could readily peruse the booklet while listening and wonder if his inclusion was a misprint. Or perhaps ECM’s Manfred Eicher and engineer Gerard de Haro are pulling a Brian Eno thing here where his instrument is made to sound like something different. (“Enosification”, so to speak). Maybe the challenge of trying to hear clarinet contributions will add to the challenge of appreciating creative, first-class music making. As usual with ECM productions, and much of jazz recording in general, the sonics are tremendous. This disc is reflective of the best compositional skills and group delivery that exists in the world of recorded sound today. Beautifully conceptualized and presented.
Tracks: Modul 36, Modul 35, Modul 32, Modul 33, Modul 38_17.
– Birney K. Brown