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World Music CD Reviews Europe

Nik Bartsch's Ronin

By Robert Kaye
Published June 13, 2008

Holon
ECM

Two years of touring in support of the critically acclaimed ECM debut Stoa have made keyboardist and composer Nik Bärtsch’s incomparable group Ronin even tighter, which is all the more notable considering the quintet’s already near-telepathic interplay. On this outing, the quintet hones many of its compelling “Zen funk” characteristics to create a diverse landscape of musical moods. With complex interlocking motifs that evolve like shifting terrain, Holon is rife with robust drum grooves fueled by articulate bass playing, along with a wealth of percussive textures that contrast or complement the sonic moment, and animated woodwinds that weave tightly into, or cavort above, the rhythm section’s dervish-like forays. Leading this musical biosystem is Bärtsch, who sometimes employs Rubik’s Cubelike patterns on the piano, or coaxes ethereal sounds from its inner strings. He’ll often paint a pulsating backdrop, allowing his mates to add to the rhythmic jigsaw puzzle and proving—if proof was ever needed— that Ronin remains remarkable.