Eagerly-anticipated second ECM album from Swiss pianist-composer Nik Bartsch and his committed young "Zen-funk" band Ronin, whose label debut 'Stoa' received rave reviews all around the world in 2006. 'Holon', again features "ritual groove music" that "throbs with a pulsating dynamism" (Observer Music Monthly) but it's developed thanks to the band's growing confidence and also to ECM's glowing sound-mix.
Nik Bartsch's music occupies a niche all its own, equidistant from contemporary composition, funk/soul grooves and scattered world musics. In some ways further removed from jazz than the other idioms, it has nonetheless been warmly embraced by the jazz community, its grooves and interlocking rhythms now frequently heard also at jazz festivals, as well as new music spaces and rock clubs. "Zen funk" is one of Bartsch's terms for his pieces, "ritual groove music" another. It is music that can claim the widest influences - in interviews Bartsch has referenced Stravinsky, Morton Feldman, Bartok, James Brown, the Meters, ritual music of Japan, folk music of Greece, Romania, Sweden. It is much more of a 'body music' than the music of the Minimalists to which it is frequently compared.
Ronin - the name alludes to the freelance warriors of old Japan - is a group resolutely dedicated to interpreting and developing the compositions of Nik Bartsch. In their hometown of Zurich the group maintains a residency at the Bazillus Club, performing every week and recently notching up its 150th gig there. It is this steady work on the material that encourages it to blossom. Bartsch is an intelligent composer whose chosen performance group is an enlightened 'dance band': "To me music is an art of motion, and thus akin to dancing...An ecstatic groove and an ascetic awareness of form and sound in composed music are not mutually exclusive: they can form combinations that take our senses by surprise." What has changed since Stoa? "We have simply reached a even higher level of playing. The band as an organism is much further developed." The recording at Studios La Buissonne in southern France was also more of a collaborative process than its predecessor, with producer Manfred Eicher contributing creatively to the whole: "The mix is unbelievable, an integral part of the compositions."
Nik Bartsch - (piano), Sha - (bass and contrabass clarinets, alto saxophone), Bjorn Meyer - (bass), Kaspar Rast - (drums), Andi Pupato - (percussion)
(4 stars) Diverse influences...Zen-like grooves, added with a healthy dose of imagination...strangely hypnotic music. -- The Observer Music Monthly, (Stuart Nicholson), February 2008
(4 stars) Meticulously horological...minute changes in key or sudden rushes of speed and volume resonate with disproportionate impact. -- Financial Times, (David Honigmann), March 1, 2008
A sound somewhere between Steve Reich and EST...played with such elan that it's hard not to be seduced. -- The Guardian, (John L Walters), March 7, 2008