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Stoa/Holon by Nik Bärtsch's Ronin

Swiss composer/keyboardist Nik Bartsch’s resounding inventiveness and stylistic jazz vernacular presents a stature that rings something like a gladiator garbed in silk armor. Hearkening back to his widely-acclaimed 2006 effort titled Stoa, the artist’s witty rhythmic permutations, are wondrously dappled with tuneful melodies that can intriguingly befuddle your mind’s eye. With cyclical thematic buildups and gobs of contrasting elements, partly due to the bass clarinetist known as Sha -- who often harmonizes with Bartsch and bassist Bjorn Meyer - the music parallels a wide-open vista that seemingly defies notions of time.

Bartsch looms as a hero among the young and restless who aim to make a difference within jazz. He occasionally reverses previously stated motifs and works towards cyclical clusters of sound. Deceptively complex in scope, the leader implements well-defined mosaics atop angular, in-your-face and off-beat funk grooves that brilliantly counterbalance any subtleties that the band pursues. On the piece titled "Modul 38_17," Bartsch’s rotating Fender Rhodes phrasings is offset by a catchy and at times, sneaky hook that serves as a foundation for his pulsating chord clusters and Sha’s counterpoint maneuvers. And while the musicians are apt to merge a minimalist stance with jazzy frameworks and finger-snapping cadences, Bartsch’s unique musical persona witnesses an extension during the 2008 outing Holon. Here, the pianist devises budding dreamscapes while his rhythm section often kicks matters into fifth gear, evidenced on "Modul 41_17," where Meyer and Sha generate nimble lines to round out drummer Kaspar Rast’s punchy beats.

The unit renders stewing choruses amid extremely tight-knit workmanship that correlates to the finely-tuned machine adage. In other regions of the program, Sha’s popping clarinet notes share a rhythmic quality with Rast and percussionist Andi Pupato’s sizzling undercurrents. Ultimately, Bartsch spawns memorable, ostinato hooks that act as seedlings for the listener to endure an aural stance that intimates a flourishing sense of evolvement. No doubt, Bartsch has blossomed into one of the more compelling voices within the nouveau spectrum of jazz. As it would be a crying shame for his work to go unnoticed, although I’ll go out on a very short limb by suggesting that the good word will get out in rather expeditious fashion. (Exuberantly recommended listening.... )

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Nik Bärtsch's Ronin
  • CD Title: Stoa/Holon
  • Genre: Progressive
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: ECM
  • Musicians: Nik Bärtsch (piano and Fender Rhodes), Sha (bass and contrabass clarinet, alto saxophone), Bjõrn Meyer (bass), Kaspar Rast (drums), Andi Pupato (percussion)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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