Nik Bartsch: Entendre

Chris May By

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Nik Bartsch: Entendre
Back in 2006, Swiss composer and keyboard player Nik Bärtsch's ECM debut, Stoa, recorded with his group Ronin, sounded like the album James Brown might have made if he'd appointed Steve Reich musical director of his backing band, The J.B.'s. Simultaneously cerebral and on the good foot, it was minimalism, Jim, but not as we knew it. Bärtsch called the music "zen funk."

Since then, Bärtsch has continued to explore the deep space of music-as-math, shuffling and stacking a deck of melodic modules and intricately interlocking rhythms, while humanising the science with funk-inspired bass ostinatos and kick-ass drums. The groove has grown increasingly nuanced, whether Bärtsch has been writing for Ronin or its unplugged sibling, Mobile, which plays a less intense but equally compelling music that Bärtsch calls "ritual groove."

Entendre, Bärtsch's loosest and most in-the-moment affair to date, is one of his few solo outings, though he seems to be warming to the situation—he made a solo tour of the Middle East and South Asia in 2017 and gave a solo performance at New York's Lincoln Center in 2019 as part of ECM's 50th Anniversary celebration. He performs exclusively on acoustic piano on the new album, which sounds as though it was made, at Lugano's Auditorio Stelio Molo studio in September 2020, without any overdubs and little if any editing. On the album, Bärtsch revisits six pieces that he has recorded with Ronin and Mobile. One of them, "Modul 5," from Mobile's Ritual Groove Music (Tonus-Music, 2004), was also included on Bärtsch's debut solo album, Hishiryō (Tonus-Music, 2002).

Bärtsch does not strip the pieces down to their fundamentals, as might be expected. Instead he creates discursive versions which flow seamlessly and organically back and forth between composition and improvisation. If you were not familiar with the material it would be hard to spot the transitions. Bärtsch says he considers each piece as a template rather than a fixed and final composition. "Each piece plays with the idea of composition, interpretation and improvisation," he says, "and is nourished by the same force, yet can create very surprising results." Manfred Eicher's production captures the sound of the piano and the room with forensic clarity. Entendre is, literally, classic Bärtsch. It is also classic ECM.

Track Listing

Modul 58_12; Modul 55; Modul 26; Modul 13; Modul 5; Deja-Vu Vienna.


Nik Bärtsch: piano.

Album information

Title: Entendre | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: ECM Records

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