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Nik Bärtsch: Awase

Hrayr Attarian By

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The exquisite Awase is Swiss pianist Nik Bärtsch's eighth release with his band Ronin. Although the ensemble has had a few personnel changes, the album maintains the creative energy and the spirit of its previous work.

The title refers to a principle of martial arts that translates to coming together and an appropriately dynamic synergy marks all six tracks. The cinematic "Module 34," for instance, consists of atmospheric and expansive refrains that resonate against Bärtsch's cascading piano. The seamless fusion of individual motifs creates complex and intricately constructed melodic fragments that coalesce to form the angular and crystalline tune. Drummer Kaspar Rast and new bassist Thomy Jordi lay down swaggering and eloquent rhythms. Reedman Sha (Stefan Haslebacher) lets loose undulating, yearning notes over these sonic waves. Bärtsch concludes with ringing keys that echo against the quartet's rumble.

The music here is more intimate than on previous recordings, perhaps because of the lack of any electronics. The Sha-penned "A" is wistful, opening with the composer's forlorn duet with Bärtsch. A hypnotic dialogue becomes tense with the entry of Rast's exacting beats and Jordi's taut reverberations. Sha blows in short emotive phrases over the swirling vamps of his colleagues. The vibrant, repeating motifs evolve into mesmerizing patterns. Both in mood and concept this piece is in sync with Bärtsch's own "Modul" tracks.

Elements of eastern mysticism are often mixed in with the overall western musical themes. Sha's haunting bass clarinet opens the ethereal "Modul 59" that is peppered with oriental tones and chimes. Bärtsch's tolling piano over Rast's brushes and Jordi's deep dark lines form a Zen-like serene framework. Within it Sha strolls with elegance and lyricism.

Awase is another superb and cohesive disc that highlights Bärtsch's and his sidemen's outstanding musicianship and shared artistic vision. Over the past 16 years, Ronin's collective sound has matured and become more sophisticated without losing its exuberance or its spontaneity.

Track Listing: Modul 60; Modul 58; A; Modul 36; Modul 34; Modul 59.

Personnel: Nik Bärtsch: piano; Sha: bass clarinet, alto saxophone; Thomy Jordi: bass; Kasper Rast: drums.

Title: Awase | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: ECM Records

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