Looking forward to the 5.04.18 release of this . . .
‘Awase‘, a term from martial arts, means “moving together” in the sense of matching energies, a fitting metaphor for the dynamic precision, tessellated grooves and balletic minimalism of Nik Bartsch’s Ronin.
Six years have passed since the last release from the Swiss group (though Nik Bartsch did release ‘Continuum’ with his group Mobile on ECM in 2016). In the interim, trimmed from quintet to quartet size and with new bassist Thomy Jordi fully integrated, Ronin has become a subtly different band.
The pianist/composer speaks of a new-found freedom and flexibility in the approach to the material, with “greater transparency, more interaction, more joy in every performance”. The freedom here extends to revisiting early Bartsch modules alongside new compositions including, for the first time on a Ronin record, a piece by reedman Sha.
After “Modul 60,” the reflective and tranquil opener to Awase, from pianist Nik Bärtsch’s groove-metric quartet Ronin, “Modul 58” comes at you with such an insistence and power that it leaves you, after its persistent eighteen minutes, catching your breath, marveling at how you went from zero to mach 10 in the blink of an eye.
Bärtsch describes the music of Ronin as “Zen Funk” or “Ritual Groove Music” and, as evidenced on previous thrillers including 2002’s Randori (Ronin Rhythm Records), ’08’s Holon (ECM Records), and ’12’s Ronin Live (ECM), the keyboardist’s in no way pulling our legs or playing with our heads.
Play with our heads the music does, though, in a dizzying, grand way, employing simple patterns unconcerned with downbeats or expectations and mantra-like modules (or “Moduls,” as Bärtsch chooses to title his works) of sheer minimalist groove that expand, contract and expand again at the whim and will of both composer and players.
Positioned, as it is, after the maelstrom of “Modul 58, Sha’s “A,” is a languid, darkly hypnotic work, its theme offered up repetitively as the band interprets each go ’round in shifting, intrinsic ways. “A” also serves as an oasis from the growing dance of “Modul 36,” a flowing, firing-on-all-cylinders rave that, if you weren’t familiar with the vision of Ronin, you might suspect was out of reach for this brainy quartet.
Ditto “Modul 34,” with Rast holding a hard rock ‘n’ roll center as Bärtsch goes unhinged. It is a tune that blends rock and jazz with a stunning ease seldom found since the fusion heyday of the mid-’70s. “Modul 59,” after the fashion of the opener, takes us out quietly, with Bärtsch and company knowing full well that we need the time to recover from the rush.
~All About Jazz
Awase was recorded at Studios La Buissonne in the south of France in October 2017 and produced by Manfred Eicher. It is released on CD and on a double LP (180g vinyl) with a free download code.
Nik Bartsch (piano)
Sha (bass clarinet, alto saxophone)
Thomy Jordi (bass)
Kaspar Rast (drums)