Pianist Nik Bärtsch's Zurich quintet Ronin has released a handful of recordings, but Holon is only the second released in the United States. When Stoa was issued in 2006, it was like this startling blast of air. Was it jazz? Was it minimalist classical music? Was it acoustic techno? Bärtsch calls it "zen funk." OK, fair enough, but in actuality, while it bears traces and borrows elements from all of the aforementioned genres, Ronin is its own animal, its own sound, its own complex yet utterly accessible musical identity or, better, brand. They have toured relentlessly all over the world, and as a result, this quintet is not only well seasoned, but also it has taken the music up the ladder a couple of rungs.
“Awase”, a term from martial arts, means “moving together” in the sense of matching energies, a fitting metaphor for the dynamic precision, tessellated grooves and balletic minimalism of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin. Six years have passed since the last release from the Swiss group. In the interim, trimmed from quintet to quartet size and with new bassist Thomy Jordi fully integrated, Ronin has become a subtly different band. Bärtsch speaks of a new-found freedom and flexibility in the approach to the material, with “greater transparency, more interaction, more joy in every performance”. The freedom here extends to revisiting early Bärtsch modules alongside new compositions including, for the first time on a Ronin record, a piece by reedman Sha. Awase was recorded at Studios La Buissonne in the south of France in October 2017 and produced by Manfred Eicher.
Kali represents the fresh and deep spirit of a new post-genre generation of musicians. Nicolas Stocker on drums (also known from Nik Bärtsch’s Mobile and Marena Whicher), Urs Müller on guitar (also known from Sha’s Feckel) and Raphael Loher on prepared piano (also known from Sekhmet) are natives of a contemporary musical world in which prog groove, noise, new minimal, ambient and new classical chamber music are just dialects of a common language. They feel at home in a composed and simultaneously in a free improvised musical context and follow their musical intuition with a wide and non-ideological understanding of music history.