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Nik Bartsch's Ronin: Holon

Andrey Henkin By

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It may seem odd to begin a CD review by expressing gratitude over its length, but there you have it. Pianist Nik Bärtsch's Holon, with his Ronin group, is a shade under 56 minutes and it is to his credit that he understands that with his particular brand of music, less is more. Like a walk on a foggy evening, it is only wondrous for a while.

Bärtsch's first of six independently released discs before signing with ECM had the unfortunate title of Ritual Groove Music (Ronin-Rhythm, 2001), essentially trapping him within a new genre of his own creation. His ritual grooviness is difficult to get a grasp on; the same conceptual leap required that Nils Petter Molvær brought to the label a decade ago.



Aesthetically it is an extension of the current ECM sound, but moved from the concert hall into the dance club. It is in concert that Ronin—which apart from its samurai connotations simply, and in this case aptly, means "drifting person"—makes most sense. Usually played in near-total darkness with bleak green and purple lights wafting about the stage, Bärtsch's music becomes almost dystopian, its amorphousness a reflection of modern uncertainty.

This album does a good job of bringing that impression to a presumably well-lit living room. Bärtsch's muted piano string vamps, borne aloft by Björn Meyer's electric bass and Sha's bass clarinet—functioning in much the same way that Bennie Maupin's did for Miles Davis' Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1969)—are better presented in this set of Moduls, which Bärtsch has Braxtonianly called all of his numbered pieces in his career.

It is often said that the music on an album functions as a suite, which is either a simplification or an obvious comment. But Bärtsch's Moduls on Holon really do; maybe less a suite than working as a set of theme-and-variations to a melody we never get to hear in its pure form.


Track Listing: Modul 42; Modul 41_17; Modul 39_8; Modul 46; Modul 45; Modul 44.

Personnel: Nik Bärtsch: piano; Sha: bass and contrabass clarinets, alto saxophone; Björn Meyer: bass; Kaspar Rast: drums; Andi Pupato: percussion.

Title: Holon | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: ECM Records

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