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Album Review

Nik Bärtsch: Entendre

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Nik Bärtsch: Entendre
Amidst the different shifting contexts that Nik Bärtsch has used to explore his unique minimalist-groove style known as Zen funk—his counterpart Ronin and Mobile groups having gone through a few changes and sometimes expanded with extra members as Ronin Rhythm Clan—it's a rare pleasure to simply hear him on his own. His compositions are titled as "Modul"s because their building blocks are meant to be adaptable to any number of different combinations or band lineups, and they're no less fascinating in this bare-bones form than when played by a quartet or octet. Still, the only previous solo performance on record was the impressive (yet overlooked) early-career curio Hishiryö: Piano Solo (Ronin Rhythm Records) back in 2002.

Although the recognizable ingredients are still present on this recital as always, there has clearly been a lot of evolution in between the two. There are spots when it seems like all those notes simply cannot be coming from just ten fingers; Bärtsch's hands dart and weave like two separate players with minds of their own, nailing steady circular vamps and quick intricate melodic flights at the same time. Without needing to fit into the clockwork gears of one of his ensembles, though, he also lets in a comfortable amount of breathing space. One can unmistakably hear that he's had long practice settling in with each piece and feeling out its natural light and shade (still without losing the exceptional level of precision underneath).

Around all the rigid repetition, there's also plenty of room for a certain playfulness as Bärtsch takes apart the music's bits and pieces to rearrange them in clever ways. The basic structures of Moduls 58 and 12 happen to mesh and complement each other beautifully, for instance, despite their having been composed more than a decade apart. A little of his trademark sound coloring still shades in between the lines as well (e.g. knocking the piano or reaching inside to directly strum the strings). He finds fascinating new angles on each, mostly going backwards from new to old, except for the softly resonant "Modul 42" variation mysteriously re-titled as "Deja-Vu Vienna" for a closer. As ever with Bärtsch's music, Entendre is a bracing mix of opposites—precise and spontaneous, familiar and strange—its central approach always the same and yet with the results changing and surprising us every time.

Track Listing

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

Personnel

Nik Bärtsch: piano.

Album information

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


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