Nik Bartsch plays Nik Bartsch at Kings Place, London

Seated in the stark beauty of Kings Place, concentrating on following ever changing tempos, this reviewer finds her focus drifting to the Theatre de Champs- Elyse, Paris, where on 29 May 1913 Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring premiered to an audience so perplexed, there was almost a riot. By contrast today’s very listening audience, accustomed to the multiple tributaries of current day musics, appears almost nonplussed.

Nik Bartsch, Zurich based pianist, composer and producer, presents his quartet Ronin plus guests as part of the London Jazz Festival and Kings Place’s Minimalism Unwrapped series. Ronan’s most recent release, ‘Nik Bartsch’s Ronin Live,’ was back in 2011, however his quartet Mobile, billed to play next day, has a CD on ECM expected early in 2016.

Tonight Bartsch presents his through-composed “ritual groove music”, a percussive, tightly controlled, funk influenced amalgam, which together with Bartsch’s striking attire, underlines his interest in Japanese martial art, Aikido. Compositional spareness is most evident in Bartsch’s own piano contributions, though all band members save drummer Kasper Rast, are kept on a short leash. The minimalism abruptly gives way to furious, sustained expositions by Rast, or brief joyous group eruptions of funk, shifts often accented by explosions of purple floods, setting the black clad band momentarily alight.

Bartsch conducts with stylised flourish, often presenting mere single notes on keyboards. The sound of Japanese wood blocks (in reality sticks played under the piano lid) offers welcome variance, whilst bass clarinettist Sha has permission for some succinct but engaging solos. The brass section begs to be let loose yet, constrained to accenting the percussion and heralding change, prove effective. Quiet guitar ruminations offer balance to Rast’s domination, the latter impressing with his ever changing metre, attack and endurance.

Thus ends a cognitively stimulating concert of what this reviewer finally chooses to understand as a stylized manifestation in jazz form, of Aikido.  

      ­F C Mactaggart

The Write Stuff

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