-->
Music

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Live

Ronin is a vital group spawned by a brilliant musician. If a live album can't convince you of that, nothing will.


Nik Bärtsch's Ronin

Live

Label: ECM
US Release Date: 2012-10-02
UK Release Date: 2012-09-24
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Nik Bärtsch's music is referred to as jazz by default. The instrumentation of his band Ronin coupled with his ebbing song forms pegs him in this genre for the sake of convenience. But if you take just a few minutes out of your day to give Bärtsch a good listen, you'll notice that jazz makes up for just a few drops in his overall goblet of sound. There are also substantial hints of minimalism as well as a rhythm section that continually blurs the lines between jazz fusion, progressive rock, and whatever else may fall between the categories. Ronin may not "swing" in an old fashioned sense, but they are tight as Craftsman hardware. The Swiss pianist has culled recordings from various performances around the world between 2009 and 2011 to release the simply titled Live, and it's frighteningly great sounding for a live recording. If you follow the ECM label regularly, you are already well aware that Manfred Eichner wants customers to receive the best sound for their money. Pruning all of the options down to nine tracks from eight different cities could not have been an easy task but Live proves that it was worth the trouble.

Even with a running time of one hour and 45 minutes, Ronin doesn't waste a second of its time trying to get its internal bearings or read the mood of an audience. No, they just start doing what they do and to hell with the formalities. Bärtsch will vamp on a cyclical figure, both simple and bewilderingly attractive, and Sha will compliment accordingly on either bass clarinet or alto saxophone (strangely keeping the wind musician from any lead roles or excessive wailing). Drummer Kaspar Rast's patterns will sometimes fit with these patterns or sometimes they might take the polyrhythmic route, sending the downbeat and hi-hat ticks into unexpected places. Bassists Björn Meyer and Thomy Jordi, the latter of whom appears on only one track, will opt for the thick and heavy funk slaps when the tempo really gets going. Percussionist Andi Pupato is along for the ride, just keeping up with all of the seemingly precise changes flying around onstage.

This all may sound brainy and pretentious. With words like "minimalism" and "polyrhythmic", I can't say that I really blame you. Rest assured that Nik Bärtsch and Ronin never close the door to certain listeners. It's actually somewhat of a marvel that music this nuanced can be so warm and inviting. It's also a pleasant surprise that the overall quality of the music holds up for two-plus years of live performances between Lörrach, Leipzig, Wien, Toyko, Amsterdam, Mannheim, Gateshead, and Salzau. With each track named as a number "Modul", a pattern for Ronin stretching back to their beginning in 2002, all nine selections are a climax unto themselves. If you don't believe me, just know that the shortest one is 8:09.

At age 41, I don't think Nik Bärtsch's reputation will need any more proving at this point. He has established his language and is keeping to it. But when ECM gives us such a rich release as Nik Bärtsch's Ronin Live, no one, especially those of the modern piano persuasion, will be complaining about more of the same.

8

Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Woodstock each did their stint as a lonely Mexican cowboy, it seems. These and other things you didn't know about A Charlie Brown Christmas.

How Would You Like to Be the Director of Our Christmas Play?

It's really a beautiful little movie and has affected my life in numerous ways. For years, especially when we were poor, we always tried to find the littlest saddest Christmas tree possible. In fact, my son Eli has a Christmas tree set up right now that is just one single branch propped up in a juice bottle. And just a couple weeks ago we were at a wedding, everyone was dancing, and me and my wife Amy and my friend Garth started dancing like the Peanuts characters do in the Christmas special. -- Comic artist James Kochalka.

Bill Melendez answers questions with the sort of vigor that men a third his age invest thousands in herbal supplements to achieve. He punctuates his speech with belly chuckles and comic strip taglines like "Oh, boy!" and "I tell 'ya!" With the reckless abandon that Melendez tosses out words like pleasure, it's clear that 41 years after its premiere, A Charlie Brown Christmas remains one of his favorite topics of conversation. "It changed my life," he states simply, "being involved with this silly little project."

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image