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World Music CD Reviews Europe

Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin

By Robert Kaye
Published March 16, 2007

ECM 5977

Global grooves, mercurial melodies, plucky polyrhythms and hypnotic happenings abound on this impressive release by Swiss jazz pianist Nik Bärtsch. “Zen Funk” is how Bärtsch describes his oftentimes Eastern-influenced music, and indeed, the various tracks, simply titled “Modul 36” or “Modul 33,” are metaphysical musical koans of sorts. He is joined by his “Ronin” band: clarinetist Sha, bassist Björn Meyer, drummer Kaspar Rast and percussionist Andi Pupato. Imagine an aural geometrical kaleidoscope on which multiple layers synchronously rotate and morph in a subtle, albeit complex dance. James Brown jamming with Steve Reich, perhaps? Throughout, Meyer and Rast comprise the unerring gyroscopic motor driving Bärtsch’s tightly knit compositions; providing him and the others interspersed spacing in which to amble. Bärtsch’s piano is the axle, as he double-handedly plays contrasting, interlocking patterns in real time, often punctuated by Sha’s clarinet accents. Repeated listen reveals more depth with each go around. Very well done!