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Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Awase

Mike Jurkovic By

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After "Modul 60," the reflective and tranquil opener to Awase, from pianist Nik Bärtsch's groove-metric quartet Ronin, "Modul 58" comes at you with such an insistence and power that it leaves you, after its persistent eighteen minutes, catching your breath, marveling at how you went from zero to mach 10 in the blink of an eye.

Bärtsch describes the music of Ronin—featuring bass clarinet/alto saxophonist Sha, bassist Thomy Jordi, and drummer Kasper Rast—as "Zen Funk" or "Ritual Groove Music" and, as evidenced on previous thrillers including 2002's Randori (Ronin Rhythm Records), '08's Holon (ECM Records), and '12's Ronin Live (ECM), the keyboardist's in no way pulling our legs or playing with our heads.

Play with our heads the music does, though, in a dizzying, grand way, employing simple patterns unconcerned with downbeats or expectations and mantra-like modules (or "Moduls," as Bärtsch chooses to title his works) of sheer minimalist groove that expand, contract and expand again at the whim and will of both composer and players.

Positioned, as it is, after the maelstrom of "Modul 58, Sha's "A," is a languid, darkly hypnotic work, its theme offered up repetitively as the band interprets each go 'round in shifting, intrinsic ways. "A" also serves as an oasis from the growing dance of "Modul 36," a flowing, firing-on-all-cylinders rave that, if you weren't familiar with the vision of Ronin, you might suspect was out of reach for this brainy quartet.

Ditto "Modul 34," with Rast holding a hard rock 'n' roll center as Bärtsch goes unhinged. It is a tune that blends rock and jazz with a stunning ease seldom found since the fusion heyday of the mid-'70s. "Modul 59," after the fashion of the opener, takes us out quietly, with Bärtsch and company knowing full well that we need the time to recover from the rush.

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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