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'Llyria' is the third album from Nik Bärtsch's Ronin and follows on from 'Stoa' and 'Holon', the ECM recordings that established the exciting young Swiss band on the international scene. Leader and pianist Nik Bärtsch's "modular" pieces still define the context of the group's music but the committed input of the individual Ronin members has lifted the work to the next level, blurring the distinctions between composition, improvisation and interpretation.
The music has become more open, moving on from its early "Zen funk" and "ritual groove music" formulas. Reed player Sha shines brightly here, and lyrical melodic themes make themselves felt. But this is, Nik Bärtsch suggests, more than its predecessors a drummer's record. Its beats are lovingly crafted by Kaspar Rast and percussionist Andi Pupato.
The new album is named for Llyrìa, the luminous, mysterious creatures that live in the ocean's depths, for Bärtsch a metaphor for the music: "We keep casting our nets in the same waters - and sometimes we find forms that are completely surprising, even to us."
The album is also available as a double 180-gram audiophile LP.
Personnel: Nik Bärtsch (piano), Sha (bass clarinet, alto saxophone), Björn Meyer (bass), Kaspar Rast (drums), Andi Pupato (percussion)
Although this is his third album for ECM, Swiss pianist Nik Bärtsch has been releasing albums of what he calls "zen funk" or "ritual groove music" since 2001. Sparse but always elegant, his compositions are pared-to-the-bone affairs consisting of crisply constructed acoustic piano patterns occasionally wreathed in electric Fender Rhodes ghost notes.
Against slivers of melodies graced with a Satie-like simplicity, the rest of the musicians tug and gnaw at the rhythmic opportunities his pieces gleefully expose. In another situation the brass player, Sha, might be expected to run away with freewheeling solos; but here, like every other musician in the group, he stays close to the immediate space around the themes. His sax offers up soaring notes of purest silver, whilst his parping contra-bass clarinet often digs deep, doubling Björn Meyer’s subterranean bass guitar runs.
Sometimes the pair will lock horns, and then go in and out of phase with Bärtsch’s constantly tumbling rhythms. This creates a complex hive of activity that’s both hugely entertaining and deeply rewarding.
Similarly, drummer Kaspar Rast, who has worked with Bärtsch since they were kids, keeps rock-solid time with only the most minimal of rolls and twists around the kit, keenly wedded to the less-is-more principle. With percussionist Andi Pupato adding exotic metallic dissonances and brilliantly imaginative counterpoints, their grooves quickly establish a relentless quality that sweeps up everything in its path.
With everything so tightly controlled, it can sometimes feels akin to being inside a large, perfectly-turned clockwork mechanism. Yet it’s this painstakingly created environment where even the tiniest of shifts in time or motion take on an almost cathartic grandeur.
Frequently astonishing in the depth and richness of its conception, Bärtsch’s grasp and exploitation of tension and release is fascinating. His music thrillingly combines a Steve Reich-like minimalist aesthetic with the kind of effortless funk-punch reminiscent of a Headhunters-era Herbie Hancock. That said, nobody currently on the scene comes close to sounding like this remarkable, and remarkably accessible, outfit.
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Top customer reviews
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.
It's a great insight and definitely worth a look.
Sorry not to have reviewed this particular recording more in depth. As someone once said, "talking/writing about music is like dancing about architecture"!
Highest recommendation for both the performance and the recording.
The recording is also excellent.
The sound is incredibly modern and electronic throughout although this doesnt detract from the immensely enjoyable playing contained herein.
The packaging is again excellent.