I was so pleased to see Lanky Geordie's review... What he has managed to sum up in his review is an honest appreciation for what is a staggeringly good album. You don't need to be a Jazz intellectual to understand/appreciate/dig (man) what's going on here... you just need to open your ears and your mind. Someone a whole lot smarter than I am once said, "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like." Hmmmm... If there was a bit more of that, there would be a far wider acceptance for this type of music. Some people fear Jazz because of the elitist tag that goes with it. This album, like many other great albums on ECM and similar labels (like ACT), speaks a universal language that doesn't necessarily need translation: just the sharing of the pleasure it brings. Fantastic.. I'm off to buy some of his other albums now!
Austrian pianist Nik Bärtsch created quite a stir in the jazz world when he released his first album on ECM almost two years ago. Holon is the follow up to Bärtsch's ECM debut Stoa, continuing the musical journey that began on the predecessor. Bärtsch's music is difficult to characterise; for it is not exactly jazz. Rather, it falls somewhere between minimal music, funk, avantgarde and jazz. The music is often centred around repetitive themes reminiscent of the great minimalist composers, such as Steve Reich, Philip Glass (on of my all time heroes) and Terry Riley. In addition, though Bärtsch and his fellow musicians exclusively rely on acoustic instrumentation (apart from Bjorn Meyer's electric bass), there is more than one reference to progressive types of dance and electronic music. However, those who are familiar with Bärtsch's work, particularly the ECM debut, would surely agree that his musical explorations are really about groove and rhythm. Here Bärtsch's mix of hypnotic grooves with minimalism and funk is, as far as I can tell, unique. He and his fellow musicians are masters at playing with the groove, providing an interesting and captivating listening experience. Despite the deceptively simple repetitions, the grooves are complex and always subtly changing. This is really what makes the music so colourful.
Bärtsch seems to be quite a character, too. He cites (amongst other things) Japanese martial arts and Zen philosophy as well as 70s funk as his inspirations. With his shaved head, black robes and goatee, Bärtsch actually looks a bit like a monk. Indeed, though it is hard to pin down, the music seems somewhat meditative: resting, yet constantly evolving (if that makes sense). I must admit that I like Holon, the current album, more than Stoa, largely because Bärtsch and his collaborators have perfected the musical style introduced on the latter. Holon sounds like an organic, free-flowing whole, full of ideas and beauty. Hence, I found Holon much more approachable. For me, Bjorn Meyer's bass introduction to the second piece (cryptically entitled Modul 41_17) is one of the highlights of the album because of its almost middle eastern/oriental feel. Generally, the whole album features very strong material and would be an ideal introduction to those not yet familiar with Bärtsch's art. Of course, this music is not for everyone. If you don't like minimal music, you might find it maddeningly repetitive at times (my mum --- bless her --- calls it 'psycho music' --- that's what she also said about Reich's Music for 18 musicians, though; not to mention her first encounter with Ornette Coleman's free jazz). If you are looking for improvisation, the structuredness of the material might put you off (though there is very subtle communication between the musicians --- one just has to listen very carefully). However, Holon is clearly recommended for open-minded listeners from the jazz, avantgarde, electronica scenes who are looking for a new listening experience. I would not be suprised if Bärtsch's music would start popping up, in sampled form, in electronic music soon. It's highly addictive stuff.
Normally I listen only to electronic music like Boards of Canada, PLAID, and Autechre and in terms of composition (if not format) they do have something in common with jazz but I am really relatively new to jazz.
I have listened to one or two albums on the excellent ECM label already, which I sought out to try out some of the more experimental jazz and even classical music emerging now. However I have never listened to anything in the Jazz genre which is anywhere near as sublimely beautiful and downright addictive as this album.
The earlier Nik Bartsch album was good but this is just awe-inspiring, magical listening. The first time I played it I was doing some work on my laptop and within a couple of songs I just had to stop and listen wholeheartedly to the music, it was so good. I am no expert on Jazz so I dont know what to compare it to, I just found it very uplifting, with the pulsating sound rising to masterful crescendos all the way through the CD.
I have never bothered to write a CD review before and I have bought lots of CDs via Amazon but this made me want to tell the world about it. Fantastic, I simply could not recommend it more highly. I am just hoping they tour in the UK soon.
For many, ECM represents the 'new age' end of jazz, with laid-back, contemplative music the order of the day. This group, led by experimental pianist Nick Bartsch, is the antithesis of all that. Building layers of rhythms upon each other, sometimes complementary, sometimes clashing, this sounds more like funk than anything else I have heard on ECM. Brilliantly inventive, totally musical, this is new music that could appear at virtually any summer festival (e.g. Glastonbury, Cambridge, V) and not be out of place. The freshest, most accomplished, most interesting band I have heard in years, and what's more, as their recent London concert showed, they do it so much better live. Don't miss this.
Nik Bartsch has taken a little while to get a good group of musicians around him, but with the Ronin line-up he's done it. Where Stoa was promising Holon delivers. The sound is still minimal but with explosions of passion and complexity. On occasions, some of the grooves actually make you want to get up on your feet.
If you like jazz where the phrasing shifts continually and the rhythms intrigue, then this superlative album simply has to be in your collection.