Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin at ICA

March 12th, 2010

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin

I’ve been privileged to be working alongside a bit of a musical buff the past few months who has been challenging and broadening my taste in music, even branching me out into Jazz which I have touched on but never really given much time.

It’s through this colleague that I found out about Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, a quintet from Switzerland that describe their music as somewhere between zen-funk and ritual groove music, and what better way to get to know a band than to see them live and in person.

I’m not sophisticated enough to describe Bärtsch’s music in the terms that he rightly deserves and frequently earns from passionate fans, but the structure of his compositions are really appealing even for someone only just broaching the edge of interest of this genre of music.

You have an intertwined mixture of Kasper Rast’s delicate approach to the drums (stroking even a finger over a drum to get a texture of sound from it), Björn Meyer’s versatile array of styles on the electric bass that plainly left me with my jaw hanging, Andi Pupato on a variety of bizarre percussion instruments including the wonderfully obscure hand crafted Skin-Udu, Sha’s beautiful sax and commanding bass clarinet, and of course Nik Bärtsch himself on (and in) and number of pianos squeezing out any number of sounds.

As individuals it’s clear that each of the band members have strong character, though each play a balanced part in each of Bärtsch’s compositions for the most part, as they progress through the composition the intensity builds and each gets to become the focus of play, absolutely shining.

Aside from their sheer talent as individuals I truly respect how much they appear to be enjoying themselves and I’m amazed at how they do not ever veer off from the complex polyrhythm that Bärtsch has laid out for them. Though I have to admit that I did find that I kept trying to find a beat within the organised chaos, and quickly ended up confused as the time signatures changed and shifted and I was left bopping to the wrong beat.

Nik Bärtsch is nothing short of a musical genius; you’ll see this for yourself if you ever see him live just by reading the expressions on his face; as he watches his Ronin play he looks almost franic following every little tone like a hawk. His passion is addictive.

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