One of most essential and forward-thinking contemporary jazz groups from the legendary ECM Records stable, Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin return to Band on the Wall.
Six years have passed since Live, the last release from Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, the long gap bridged in 2015 with Continuum, an album from Mobile, Bärtsch’s all-acoustic project.
“I wanted to give Ronin the peace and space it needed to develop,” says the Swiss composer-pianist. “Not to put it under pressure, and to take all the steps necessary before the next recording.”
Awase, recorded at Studios La Buissonne in the South of France in October 2017 and produced by Manfred Eicher, updates us on the progress of one of the most original bands
around, as well as the present-day status of ritual groove music, Bärtsch’s all-purpose term for his self-invented idiom equidistant from jazz and funk and contemporary composition. Almost by definition, rituals can’t be rushed, and Ronin has had some changes to absorb. With bassist Thomy Jordi replacing Björn Meyer in 2011, and percussionist Andi Pupato departing the following year, trimming the line-up from quintet to quartet, Ronin has gradually become a subtly different band. A leaner, more agile animal.
Bärtsch 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 earlier Bärtsch modules alongside new compositions including, for the first time on a Ronin record, a piece by reedman Sha. “We’ve spent a long time working on the new repertoire, really checking out and fine tuning all the details.”
Awase, a term from Aikido, means “moving together” in the sense of matching energies, a fitting metaphor for the dynamic precision, tessellated grooves and balletic minimalism of Ronin today. In the old band, Bärtsch often chose to present Björn Meyer’s flamboyant 6-string bass as a lead instrument. Thomy Jordi’s 4-string bass guitar tends to be deployed within the fabric of the pieces, creatively fulfilling a more traditional bass function and locking in with Kaspar Rast’s powerful drums. With Bärtsch also scaling back his own solo playing, listeners are encouraged to hear the whole music and its layered, shifting approach to interaction in new ways.
The album opens with an abbreviated version of “Modul 60”, quite unlike the interpretation heard on the Mobile recording. “We’ve always taken the position that the compositions can be played by both groups – Mobile or Ronin – to bring out different aspects of the music. “When we did ‘60’ with Mobile, I was hearing it in a very chamber music way and it radiated a sort of bittersweet atmosphere. With Ronin it has a sparseness, an emptiness and a roughness that I really like. In the studio Manfred and I had the idea that it would be nice to play it as a sort of ‘quote’, bringing the story forward from Continuum. So, this new version starts around the middle of the composition.”
Nik Bärtsch: piano
Sha: bass clarinet, alto saxophone
Jeremias Keller : bass
Kaspar Rast: drums
An unreserved seated show with limited standing room. On sale 10am 7th April.Artists on stage: 19:30