Nik Bärtsch's Ronin

Holon | ECM
By JON GARELICK  |  February 20, 2008
2.5 2.5 Stars
Swiss pianist Bärtsch calls the music of his quintet variously “zen funk” or “ritual groove music.” You’ll get the idea right away: repetitive rhythmic-melodic patterns shifting incrementally over static harmonies. At their best, the morphing polyrhythms recall Steve Reich’s “Drumming,” at their worst it’s a long afternoon with Blue Man Group — everything’s either energetically propulsive or blandly metronomic. If it weren’t for the ensemble’s command of texture and dynamics, those motoric variations could drive you mad. But then electric-bassist Björn Meyer will take a spidery, guitar-like solo in the upper register, or reedman Sha will move to a raspy bullfrog bass clarinet. Or, best of all, a big backbeat will kick in and Sha will start keening on alto sax in a minor key over Bärtsch’s ecstatic hammered-dulcimer-like latticework. For a moment, you’ve left the ever-pending now of the one-chord vamp and are in some ancient Ottoman Empire village, beyond time. Right where Bärtsch wants you to be.

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin | Regattabar, Charles Hotel, 1 Bennett St, Cambridge | February 28 | 617.395.7757
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  Topics: CD Reviews , Steve Reich, Blue Man Group
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