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Nik Bartsch's Ronin: Holon

Dan McClenaghan By

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For those of us who weren't paying attention earlier, Nik Bartsch's Ronin first burst on the scene with its 2007 ECM Records debut, Stoa. But the Swiss composer-pianist had, in fact, been building a just-beneath-the-radar discography for several years on his own Ronin Rhythm Records.

Which brings us to Holon, Bartsch's second ECM set, one which moves the music deeper into the "Zen Funk" and "Ritual Groove" foundational mold that the pianist and his band have constructed.

It's counterproductive to intellectualize the Ronin sound. Considered within the melody/rhythm/harmony framework, rhythm is in the forefront here. Or, rather, rhythm, repetition, and trance-like grooves that speak more to the body than to the mind. This is a piano, bass, reed, drums and percussion ensemble stitching multiple odd meters into precision tapestries in the mode of an electronica group (although with Nik Bartch's Ronin, the sound—with the exception of Bjorn Meyer's electric bass—is acoustic.)

Holon has a slightly more organic feeling than its predecessor, Stoa, due in part to Bartsch's move away from Fender Rhodes to acoustic piano. It also has more of a "live" sound, with the opener, "Modul 42," sounding particularly pastoral.

Multi-reedist Sha is essential to the Ronin experience. He plays mostly bass and contrabass clarinets, and his contribution is by and large almost subliminal: low rumbles and distance groans that fill in the open spaces in tight textures. But on "Modul 45" he wails in on alto sax, like a banshee trying to charm a cobra.

Nik Bartsch and Ronin have crafted a singular sound, a curious mix of mathematics, mysticism and ringing rhythmic beauty. Who says there's nothing new happening in jazz? .

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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