Nik Bärtsch – Entendre
(ECM 3528110. CD Review by John Bungey)
Nik Bärtsch is one of that esteemed band of musicians whose work you can recognise within 30 seconds (*). The Swiss pianist has been recording his unique “zen funk” – minimalism meets James Brown – for ECM since 2006. It’s music for the head and the hips (to use guitarist Robert Fripp’s phrase): you can normally zone in on the polymetric precision of the interlocking instrumental lines, or you can just groove to the propulsive drumming of Kaspar Rast.
Here, however, Bärtsch delivers his first solo record for ECM, revisiting Module (in English, modules), as he calls his pieces, recorded with his two groups, Ronin or the more acoustically inclined Mobile. The results inevitably veer closer to zen than funk. Modul 58, for example, shimmers in a sparse beauty that may attract the sort of people who buy piano records by Ludovico Einaudi, Nils Frahm or other creators of the “dream music for stressed out IT consultants” ilk.
That’s not to say this album is bland. It offers a chance to peer under the bonnet of a Bärtsch composition stripped of the sonic distractions of an ensemble. Bärtsch describes his Module as templates that can be developed towards different ends. But if you’ve heard, say, Modul 55 on Llyria or Modul 58 on Awase the versions here will be familiar in outline – Satie-like wisps of melody in the right hand, intricate ostinatos in the left. The 14-minute Modul 26 becomes mesmeric as its Jarrett-like drama slowly unfolds.
In a straight choice, nothing here quite matches the thrill of Ronin hitting fifth gear with the six-string bass thrumming and the bass clarinet hooting darkly. But Entendre is a different beast and certainly a grower. Given that Bärtsch’s exploration of ritual groove music is by now pretty exhaustive, it’s an interesting left turn.
* Gets you thinking, doesn’t it – Bill Frisell, Jan Garbarek, Joe Lovano, Monk of course ….