The quirky, minimalist ritual groove music of Swiss keyboardist Nik Bärtsch is, after three previous recordings, coming into its own with this fourth CD, recorded live in concert in Zurich and Bern. The refinement of Bärtsch's playing and the coming together of his now-established quintet, Ronin, is obvious to anyone, whether a newcomer or dedicated fan of the band. Supported by the spot-on rhythmic wizardry of drummer Kaspar Rast and percussionist Andi Pupato, Bärtsch, bassist Björn Meyer, and saxophonist/bass clarinetist Sha weave a magical zen-like discourse of funk/not-funk and a bright, clairvoyant sense of wonder and imagination into the fiber of this music.
This is not jam band, modal modern jazz, or film noir sounds in the strictest sense, but all three elements play their distinct parts in what is truly a new sonic language. Everything for Bärtsch is a module. "Modul 14" uses 14/8 and 7/4 time signatures wrapped around a sparse light funk accented by spacy electronics, Fender Rhodes electric piano, and heavy bass, more dense and layered as it goes along. "Modul 17" is a 5/4 ostinato with inventively juxtaposed rhythms using snare brushes and bells contrasting the Rhodes, acoustic piano, and organ. It's a modern-day road song that astoundingly uses no overdubs, as is the case throughout on this purely live set.
"Modul 11" is more traditional R&B-flavored straight funk in 3/4, where the elements of contrast and development -- a key to their music -- are most evident. "Modul 16" suggests the harder-edged European '70s fusion of pioneers Charlie Mariano, Jan Hammer, Jasper van't Hof, Volker Kriegel, and Joachim Kühn, along with the British Canterbury scene, using constant variations within a minimal framework. "Modul 8_9" and "Modul 15" are the longest pieces, more simple and basic, and apply a spare subtlety that may not be the best concert vehicles.
Most of this music, under the sub-concept Conspiracy of the Rhythm Gardeners, is compelling, commanding, well worth a close listen, and a prelude for things to be heard stateside. This may be a difficult recording to acquire, but worth the search.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos
|Brand||Ronin Rhythm Records|
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