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Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin: Holon

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Pianist Nik Bärtsch fancies his quintet Ronin a groove-jazz ensemble, but it’s not what you might think. There’s no organ here, and no guitar. This is a quiet, minimalist kind of groove with a shimmering luminescence. It’s an acoustic, European variation on funk, in line with what Esbjörn Svensson’s trio has been doing for several years. Except for Bärtsch’s decision to abandon the Fender Rhodes and stick with the acoustic piano, Holon, Ronin’s second album, is much like the first, 2006’s Stoa. Songs are not titled; they are numbered “modules.” Within them, phrases are repeated and repeated, digging a trough into each tune-hence the groove. Compositions are bare outlines, performances unadorned. There are no sheets of sound, no flurries, no cascades and few animated solos. Blue notes are rare. “Modul 42” circles around its simple theme, building slowly like the score behind a key scene in a suspense film.

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