Swiss keyboardist & composer Nik Bärtsch has been recording for two decades, mostly with his Ronin and Mobile groups and their overlapping musicians. A ceaseless experimenter, his early release Hishiryo: Piano Solo (Ronin Rhythm Records, 2002) was a genre-neutral project where he played piano, prepared piano, and percussion. It has been almost twenty years between solo albums, but Bärtsch has made the wait worthwhile with Entendre, his seventh album for the ECM label. It reflects the notion that music does not end with its initial iterations but is an evolving progression of ideas.
Bartsch explains that his "Modul" compositions can serve as models for later extensions, modifications, and directions. In that vein, the opening "Modul 58-12" takes its source material from two previously recorded pieces. They are not merged here but reconfigured and interwoven, creating a new soundscape with little resemblance to the originals. Ultimately, fresh ideas begin with "Modul 55," first played inside the piano; the strummed strings give way to a meditative piece accented by dramatic acoustic effects. The fourteen- minute "Modul 26" consists of on-and-off episodes, suggesting progressive house music and hypnotic arpeggios. The intriguing "Modul 5" has an air of mystery in an uncluttered setting. With its short, repetitive phrases and unhurried tempo, the piece would be at home in a Steve Reich collection.
Bärtsch's complexly engineered style incorporates minimalism, jazz, and classical rudiments, forming something beyond classification but clearly, with his stamp on it. The music is absorbing and accessible, not losing its distinctive qualities, even when it borders on a trance-like state. Entendre focuses more on Bärtsch's acoustic piano, and it makes for an appreciable step up from his previous solo work; it is clear-headed but with warmth.
Modul 58_12; Modul 55; Modul 26; Modul 13; Modul 5; Deja-Vu Vienna.
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