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Nik Bartsch's Ronin at Constellation in Chicago

Hrayr Attarian By

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Nik Bärtsch's Ronin
Constellation
Chicago, IL
May 10, 2018

On May 10th 2018, Swiss pianist Nik Bärtsch brought his quartet, Ronin to Chicago's Constellation. In the venue's intimate studio B the ensemble stretched out on material from its latest album to date, the sublime Awase (ECM, 2018). It kept the close to 200-member audience captivated with their collective performance.

Bärtsch opened the concert with tolling notes from the piano strings. Multireed player Sha (Stefan Haslebacher) followed almost immediately with a contemplative, breathy bass clarinet. Together they created a cinematic ambience that drummer Kaspar Rast enhanced with his splashing cymbals while bassist Thomy Jordi contributed a dark and expectant undercurrent. The crystalline melodic refrains out of which this superb composition was constructed resonated and echoed hauntingly, thanks to Constellation's acoustic environment. Seamlessly the music transformed into a fiery and melancholic tune that was simultaneously riotous and disciplined. The overlapping solos were underscored by the flashing and color changes of the stage lights.

After a bout of loud applause, Bärtsch introduced his sidemen and commenced the mystical second piece of the evening with eastern lyricism. The band did not stay in this ethereal atmosphere long as it launched into an explosive and funky interplay with plenty of soul. Rast thundered on his drums while Bärtsch used mallets to coax eerie yet earthy tones from the piano. Meanwhile Sha's muscular saxophone complemented Jordy's swaggering basslines.

A standing ovation brought back the group for two encores. Both tunes kept the complex and thrilling, almost acrobatic, synergy among the four men without sacrificing the raw energy and the virtuosic spontaneity.

Over an immensely satisfying hour and a half Bärtsch and Ronin showcased their trademark style and unique musicianship. They successfully balanced individual expressiveness with a multilayered group sound and angular structure with ad lib passion. They even inspired an artist who had set up a small workspace in the corner to paint abstract and colorful tableaus.

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