With their music, which the group’s leader calls “Zen-funk”, the Ronin musicians consistently follow the same aesthetic vision under various instrumental guises: creating the maximum effect by minimal means.
Ronin is a wandering masterless samurai, never obeying anybody’s orders but the codex of honour. Swiss keyboardist Nik Bärtsch chose this name for his group, formed in 2001, deservedly called a phenomenon on European scene. With their music, which the group’s leader calls “Zen-funk”, the Ronin musicians consistently follow the same aesthetic vision under various instrumental guises: creating the maximum effect by minimal means.
Ronin ’s music incorporates elements of disparate musical worlds – jazz, classical, funk, club music, ambient, techno, drum’n’base, Japanese ritual music, as well as minimalism classics from Phillip Glass, Steve Reich and Terry Riley to experimental The Necks. However, despite the multiplicity of the band’s influences, Ronin’s music always possesses a strong individuality. Exotic synthesis of seemingly incompatible genres, described as minimalist jazz, minimalism with funk elements or fusion of minimalism and contemporary chamber jazz, Ronin ’s music is extremely disciplined and depersonalized, displaying computer-like precision, which on its own terms would seem to be a contradiction to the origins of jazz. Organic texture of Ronin’s music is filled with layers of poly-rhythmic constructions and their constant rotation, while incredibly synchronic sonoristic and motivic repetitions put one to meditation, hypnotic trance.
All aforementioned effects are generated by acoustic means, without electronic delay or transformation, loops or samples. In fact, what sometimes sounds like electronic delay or loops is created in real time, live and with remarkable virtuosity. Ronin performs its digital-age music with analog sensibility.
Nik Bärtsch (b. 1971), Ronin ’s chief ideologist and thinker, compares his composing with architectural organisation of space. Swiss pianist, keyboardist, composer and producer has formed new style, called Ritual Groove Music (also the title of his first album), which fuses jazz, funk, Japanese ritual music, elements of minimalism and classical music. Nik Bärtsch’s artistic credo – asceticism and ecstasy – is revealed in the titles of his compositions. He calls all of them Modules (only their numbers change), as if validating the idea of pure music. In his strikingly effective poly-rhythmic combinations on both piano and Fender Rhode he approaches piano as a percussion instrument.
Born in Zurich ,Nik Bärtsch studied jazz piano for nine years, beginning his classical studies only at 16. After getting his diploma from the Zurich Musikhochschule, in 1989–2001 he studied philosophy, linguistics and musicology at the University of Zurich, simultaneously freelancing in diverse bands, playing everything from fusion to free-funk. At the same time his curiosity in modern composition was growing, especially in John Cage and Morton Feldman.
In 1997, Nik Bärtsch had distilled his new style Ritual Groove Music, formed his first group Mobile, and in 2001 Ronin. Since 2001, he has also appeared in solo projects. In 2003–2004, he spent six month in Japan, accumulating and deepening his music knowledge.
In addition to working with his groups, Nik Bärtsch collaborates with various new music ensembles and soloists, composes for chamber ensembles and theatre.
Nik Bärtsch’s poly-rhythmic structures are punctuated by Sha’s (b. 1983) clarinet accents. Clarinettist plays not only bass clarinet, but also the exotic contrabass clarinet. The latter will be heard in Lithuania for the first time. Having played in Nik Bärtsch’s Mobile since 1997, a few years later the young musician also joined Ronin. Sha is presently studying at the Jazz School in Lucerne. He has worked with Anja Losinger, Walter Grimmer, Michael Gassmann, Philipp Schaufelberger and Claudio Puntin. He is also a member of Mik Keusen’s Blau and the leader and composer for his own band Banryu.
Björn Meyer’s hypnotic bass affirms Ronin’s rhythm.
Bassist and composer Björn Meyer (b. 1965) was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden. His journey as freelance musician started 1989 with a wide spectrum of musical adventures from pop and folk to improvised music. In 1996, he moved to Switzerland and since then has been active on Swiss music scene, as well as performing in Australia, Spain and Sweden, appearing not only with various projects but also as a bassist/soloist.
Always searching for new ways of expressing ideas on the bass Björn Meyer developed a very personal style, in which traditional music and playing-techniques from all over the world have been major influences. Combining styles and timbres, he developed a new musical concept, which he calls Tripfolk or Bazaarmusic.
In addition to working with his own ensembles – jazz group Snag and Swedish trio Bazar Blå – performing transglobal tripfolk, he also plays oriental jazz with harpist Asita Hamidi, collaborates with various Swedish groups and projects. He has worked with flamenco performers dancer Nina Corti and guitarist José Luis Montón, as well as Afro-Cuban jazz group Hatuey. Aside from active performing, Björn Meyer leads workshops, teaches new approaches to folk music at the Lucerne and Zurich conservatoires. A big part of his work is centred on Bazaarpool, a world-open musical community.
Drummer Kaspar Rast (b. 1972) is a very important personality in Ronin. Having played with Nik Bärtsch since childhood, he and the leader of the group developed extraordinary ‘elbow sense’. Indeed, this master of minimalism and funk should be credited for Ronin’s precise rhythm.
Kaspar Rast started drumming at the age of six. He began independently, and then studied in music school in Zurich, and the Drummers Collective in New York. His list of concerts and tours covers Europe, Africa and South America.
Kaspar Rast has a reputation of a master of fantastical soundscapes, is among the most sought after drummers. He has worked and recorded with various Swiss groups and projects, is a member of Swiss percussion group Lyn Leon, plays in both Nik Bärtsch’s groups – Ronin and Mobile, and also in harpist Asita Hamidi’s Bazaar.
Andi Pupato (b. 1971) is a percussion wizard, at home on Cajon, Congas, Udu, Djembe, Darabouka, Timbales, Bongos, Bougarabou, Waterdrums, Zendrum, Bata, Gongs, Framedrums, Shakers, Cymbals, Small-Percussions, Waterharp, and Skin-Udu.
He enrolled to music school in Zurich at the age 11, and then he studied with various musicians in his native city, and not before long started performing with local groups. In 1991, he honed his professional skills in the Escuela de superación profesional de musica Ignacio Cervantes in Havana, Cuba; in 1993, studied with renowned Cuban percussionist José Luis “Changuito” in Quintana; In 1994, he went to Senegal with the Senegalese master drummer Kounta’s band Dougou-Fana, where he studied traditional African percussion.
Since 1991, when he won first prize in competition in Zurich with the group Jick the Rapper , Andi Pupato has worked in various formations, recorded sound tracks, performed live and in studio projects. Percussionist has worked with such luminaries as Billy Cobham, Abdullah Ibrahim, Moudi Cabalou, Jon Otis, Tony Remy and Florian Ast; groups The Other Side, Grand Mothers Funk, Chico&the Gipsys and Gotthard , among others. Since 2001, he has worked with Andreas Vollenweider.
© Jūratė Kučinskaitė
Nik Bärtsch's Ronin Live at Jazzfestival Berlin 06 (1/3)
Nik Bärtsch's Ronin Live at Jazzfestival Berlin 06 (2/3)
Nik Bärtsch's Ronin Live at Jazzfestival Berlin 06 (3/3)