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For Nik Bärtsch and Ronin, Jazz Is a Mixed Martial Art

The band led by the Swiss pianist looks to follow the path of the samurai

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin
Left to right: Kaspar Rast, Nik Bärtsch, Sha, Thomy Jordi. Photo by Jonas Holthaus

Terminology matters to Nik Bärtsch. “We talk about music and we want to feel a certain energy in it, a certain metaphoric direction,” says the pianist, speaking over Skype from his home in Zürich. “So it’s very important to me to have a term that says something very clear in a very short form.” He has coined just such a term for the music of his Ronin quartet: Zen funk.

Bärtsch acknowledges the inherent contradiction of the term, juxtaposing a meditative state against aggressive rhythm. “In what we play, in our attitudes, these two energies—meditative flow and strong, kinetic groove—are both essential. In my music I try to bring them together and I feel it very strongly.”

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