Posted on Oct 27th 2010 01:28 am

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Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin: Llyrìa

ECM Records 2010
07 Tracks. 56mins08secs

Amazon UK: CD US: CD | DLD iTunes: DLD

Swiss composer and pianist Nik Bärtsch returns to ECM for the third time with his ensemble, Ronin, which he has led for nearly ten years now. Originally a quartet formed of long term collaborator Kaspar Rast on drums, Björn Meyer on bass, Andi Pupato on percussion, the formation expanded to a quintet with the addition of Sha on bass clarinet and alto saxophone in 2006.

Taking its title from a newly discovered luminescent creature of the deep which is currently defying classification, Llyrìa, Ronin’s sixth album, expands on the band’s ‘Zen funk’ template, a blend of minimalism and incendiary grooves, which has defined much of their recordings until now. A strong backbone to the quintet’s music, the partnership between Bärtsch and Rast continues to provide the bulk of the record’s structure here, with Meyer’s electric bass adding to the pair’s often flamboyant contributions, establishing a platform for Sha to process the groove, at times sticking close to it, at others openly seeking contrasting positions. On Modul 52 for instance, he finds himself reacting to Bärtsch’s phrases, partly locked in the same repetitive patterns, or circling around cascading piano notes, but it is the interaction between the piano and the drums which sets the tone, relentlessly going from light and airy textures to much darker and imperious configurations.

This also feeds into Modul 47 or Modul 49_44 later on, but here, the pair play a much more central role, influencing the mood of a whole piece by simply injecting slight tonal variations. For the first minute and a half of the former, while Bärtsch performs a recurring theme, Rast alternates between two distinct time signatures, but things change again later on as he settles into a more consistent groove. Equally, the piano goes from sumptuous resonating overtones to much drier syncopated shapes, often switching from one to the other in an instant. Modul 49_44 is not quite as intricate or angular, but here again, the pair work tightly together, with Meyer also contributing greatly, especially in the second half, where the momentum is greater.

Sha is never more unrestrained than on the magnificent album opener, Modul 48, as he launches in a particularly lyrical series of motifs, while Bärtsch’s piano scintillates at the back. The fluidity which characterizes his performance here is totally inspiring, and contributes greatly to the dreamy nature of the piece. The shaded tones of Modul 55 and Modul 53 also suit his input as he alternates between bass clarinet on earthy moments, and sax on the more evocative passages.

Assuming his role as composer, Bärtsch maps out much of the quintet’s output here, yet, once handed out to be performed, the music escapes his control and becomes a much more volatile component, feeding on each musician’s interpretation and of the dynamic of the ensemble as a whole. This gives Llyrìa its depth and drive, and ensures that, throughout, the ensemble retain the freshness and spontaneity of improvised music, while actually sticking to a very precise blueprint.


Nik Bärtsch | Nik Bärtsch (MySpace) | ECM Records
Amazon UK: CD US: CD | DLD iTunes: DLD

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One Response to “NIK BÄRTSCH’S RONIN: Llyrìa (ECM Records)”

  1. THE 2010 REVIEW | themilkfactoryon 29 Dec 2010 at 11:53 pm

    […] Eskmo (Ninja Tune) 37. ROOF LIGHT Kirkwood Gaps (Highpoint Lowlife) 38. NIK BÄRTSCH’S RONIN Llyrìa (ECM Records) 39. ON Something That Has Form And That Does Not (Type Recordings) 40. JÓHANN […]