Nik Bärtsch is a restrained fellow, you’d not guess from this that he’s a keyboard player, it sound’s more like the bass player’s band. This is because Bärtsch avoids taking a lead role, he is immersed in an ensemble which twists and turns in unison like a flock of starlings over the sea. This means that the work rarely has a central voice but is rather a series of moods, soundscapes and rhythmic explorations. It sounds superb, the bass in particular is glorious, it has a velvety darkness augmented by real weight from drums, bass guitar and a positively chewy bass clarinet.
It’s uncannily well recorded for a live concert, noise levels are vanishingly low and there is sophisticated use of reverb. Apparently the percussionist Andi Pupato recorded 50 concerts from the stage and these were used honed down to the nine tracks presented here by Bärtsch and ECM’s Manfred Eicher earlier this year, one suspects a little bit of tweezing might have been involved along the way.
There are two discs each containing Moduls (sic) from concerts around the world in 2011, the pieces on the first disc are relatively calm and introspective yet expansive acoustically with dynamic tension that’s developed by serial bass lines. It encourages dimming of lights and raising of volume. Disc two is more explosive and visceral, you experience the full power of the Ronin, which if memory serves and Frank Miller was correct is a samurai without a master, it’s a great choice of name for this stealthy yet fast and sinuous group.
This is definitely a grower, initially it doesn’t seem like there is enough to engage but all you need is a little patience to get hooked into a grooves that have a dynamic all of their own. Next time that Bärtsch brings Ronin to my part of the world I’ll be there.