The music of Nik Barsch's Ronin is instantly recognisable and surprisingly difficult to describe (even with the assistance of Wittginstein's quotation about "Empathis und Phrasierung" in the liner notes). Barsch's own (not entirely happy) phrase "zen funk" captures some of the internal conflict behind such disciplined music and reviewers of the previous release "Holon" highlighted comparators such as the American minimalists, the much-missed EST and Autechre.
Publicity releases for "Llyria" have highlighted its increased melodic and lyrical sense and corresponding "loosening of the ritualistic grooves" in comparison to its predecessor "Holon". Nonetheless, "Llyria" is no volte face or abandonment from the group's previous work, rather a refinement or natural development and, for all the excellence of "Holon", an improvement. The use of acoustic instruments save for electric bass provides a warm and organic feel which militates against the disciplined construction of the music, the complete absence of ego and notion of soloists, and the austere description of all the pieces as numbered modules.
The percussive precision throughout, best exemplified on fourth track "Modul 47", and shifting pulse match any of Jaki Liebzeit`s contributions to Can's "Future Days". Bartsch's piano has a more crystalline quality than before and his patterns, whilst still very rhythmic with lower register stabbings providing as much propulsion as the bass or percussion, are indeed more melodic and even impressionistic. On third track "Modul 55" in particular the mysteriously named Sha's saxophone even has echoes of Stephan Micus's (zen but resolutely un-funky) music.
The range of comparisons and synthesis of melody and rhythm, pre-conception and improvisation means that this is music which should appeal to Ronin's existing fanbase, a wide new audience and fellow musicians looking for samples and directors for film-music. Undemonstratively brilliant.