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There were moments - long, magnetic spells, actually - during a recent set by Nik Bärtsch's Ronin at Joe's Pub in New York when the Swiss instrumental quintet seemed more like a double trio: two percussionists; a bassist and one band member exhaling low, sustained drones on bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet; and Bärtsch on both acoustic and electric piano, one hand on each, playing hypnotic overlapping riffs that were more pulse than melody. The music was a subtle, accelerating excitement, a trance-fusion melting of the '71 Pink Floyd, the '68 Grateful Dead and the rhythm armies in Miles Davis' electric bands - minus guitars and trumpet. There are no song titles on Ronin's latest album, Holon (ECM) or 2006's Stoa (ECM) - the tracks are numbered - because the colors, lift and flow in this fusion speak for themselves. -- David Fricke, Rolling Stone, April 03, 2008
Top Customer Reviews
In the world of jazz 'avant-garde' there are two main currents: on one hand, you have the musicians who are simply content with re-enacting the canon (Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, sometimes to amazing results it must be said) while on the other there are those who prefer to push the envelope by going, if ever slightly, beyond the boundaries of the genre.
Mostly this is done by combining jazz with 'other things', i.e., influences coming from different musical fields. Hence, a lot of experimentation mixing jazz with electronics, hip-hop, minimalism, indie rock, etc.
While this 'mixing' concept is in no way new (didn't bossa nova stem from the jazz+latin music formula?), it can often produce exciting results.
Matthew Shipp work with Thirsty Ear, ups and downs notwithstanding, is a good example (or at least a widely publicized one)
*...AND THE ACTUAL REVIEW*
Nik Baertsch's Ronin Quintet does the same, fashioning a record that borrows from minimalism, funk (especially in the use of bass), IDM and, just like some other reviewer noted, middle-eastern motifs.
He (Nik) calls this concoction 'Zen Funk', I call it 'good enough to deserve 5 stars'.
Each composition is based on hypnotic piano modules (think of minimalist repetition) played by Baertsch himself. This is the foundation on which the other instruments play, either by building the groove or by showing amazing interplay and exciting solos.
This album is truly amazing and has been on heavy-rotation in my player since the day it reached my mailbox. Kudos to NB for pushing the genre to new directions and, most importantly, for delivering such an exciting record.
If there's to be a minor criticism, I found the 14' 51" second piece took a little TOO long (6' 57" to be exact) to change out of its initial Reich-esque pattern, which, on just this one occasion, fell on the wrong side of the thin dividing line between rivetting/mesmerising & annoying/repetitive minimalism.
Minor criticism(s) aside, an excellent album.
As we'd expect from EMC, recording and production quality is top tier. But more importantly, the band is great (piano, clarinet/sax, bass, drums and percussion), the tunes are interesting, and flow seamlessly into a beautiful whole. Perhaps since it's Swiss we should think of it as "existential" jazz, instead of "Zen". Whatever, the name is only a label...
"Being an agile organism, our band makes decisions on phrasing, tension and musical direction in a fraction of a second. It reminds me of a school of fish moving across a coral reef with lightning speed. Are the fish faster than thought? An instant later they are peacefully afloat in the translucent sea as if nothing had happened." Nik Bartsch (from the liner notes)
Perhaps because of the sound of the acoustic piano, however, Holon makes a different musical impression than did Stoa, the newer release sounding more like jazz and less like minimalism. When I reviewed Stoa back in Issue 105 of The $ensible Sound, I said it sounded more like jazz than classical minimalism; with Holon, that claim can be made more emphatically, meaning that Holon is the release more likely to be embraced by more traditional jazz fans.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin is a jazz group that explores an improvisatory style strongly inspired by the American minimalist composers of the 1970s like Steve Reich. Read morePublished on December 30, 2013 by Christopher Culver
My first experience with Nik Bartsch but it certainly won't be my last. There's a brooding menace to the music, a slow buildup that always threatens to explode. Read morePublished on January 14, 2011 by Singslinger
On "Holon," Nik Bärtsch's Ronin fashions disparate elements of jazz, funk, and ambient music into a musical fabric that glimmers and pulses with energy, sounding in places as... Read morePublished on April 27, 2010 by loce_the_wizard
These modal explorations are minimalistic, holistic, gestaltic, self-evolving, and utterly fascinating. Read morePublished on June 11, 2009 by Dr. Debra Jan Bibel
CREO QUE LOS QUE SOMOS SEGUIDORES DEL SELLO ECM BUSCAMOS ALGO DIFERENTE U ORIGINAL CUANDO ADQUIRIMOS UN CD. Read morePublished on April 21, 2009 by Richard Wagner
Llegué a escuchar a Nik Bärtsch por mera casualidad.
Simplemente, encargué el disco a ECM en Alemania. Read more
Not quite sure what kind of music this is. A bit jazz and a bit Philip Glass minimalism. Still, end result is that at the end of the album I hit repeat, gotta hear this strange... Read morePublished on January 18, 2009 by David (design matters) Robbins
Great atmospherics, some songs are a little "spooky". Really deserves to be listened to with headphones. The depth of the recording is wonderful. Read morePublished on October 13, 2008 by Clay M. Aston