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Nie Bartsch's Ronin

Nie Bartsch's Ronin
May 29, 2018 04:38PM
Writing about jazz really intimidates me, but I've been trying to listen to more of the genre this year, and there have been rewarding releases from Nubya Garcia, Henry Threadgill, Bill Frisell and the WE OUT HERE compilation of new British jazz (with a 2 & 1/2 hour Kamasi Washington album out in about 3 weeks). The new album by pianist Nik Bartsch's group Ronin, AWASE, sounds nothing like Sons of Kemet's latest album, but they share the ability to push jazz towards dance music without any trendy tendency to layer saxophone and trumpet over hip-hop or techno beats. In its 6 songs, one of which runs 18 minutes, AWASE goes through a variety of tones and moods, but it's most impressive when Bartsch and Ronin emphasize forward motion and their ability to lay down a groove. In the quieter moments, the band is helped by the fact that saxophonist She doubles on bass clarinet, which offers some relatively unusual tonal colors. The group's label, ECM, is often stereotyped - I've done it too - as serving up an icy, made-in-Europe version of jazz that, at its worst, can verge on New Age. AWASE challenges that; it's clearly aware of contemporary rock and pop music without ever trying to imitate them and honors jazz's roots in the dancehall.



Post Edited (05-29-18 13:39)
Re: Nik Bartsch's Ronin
May 29, 2018 05:51PM
I just wrote a piece on this record myself. It's quite strong - it nods to funk without ever actually playing funk, finding the common ground between that and minimalist composition. What I've heard of their early work is really good, too.

I'm a big supporter of ECM - there's a lot of dross, but a lot more strong stuff than they're given credit for. A lot of European jazz gets shit for not "swinging," but I find that to be a legitimate choice (especially since so many of them can't swing) - at their best they have a very painterly approach I find appealing. And there's plenty of their Euro-jazzers who fit quite nicely into the free jazz and avant-garde boxes. Not to mention that they do put out records by Americans quite a bit. And where else would folks who don't fit easily in a box - Steve Tibbetts, David Torn, Barstch, for that matter - go?



Post Edited (06-13-18 11:06)
Re: Nie Bartsch's Ronin
May 30, 2018 12:15AM
My favorite ECM releases are the '70s work of Terje Rypdal and the acoustic piano and vibes duo albums by Gary Burton and Chick Corea. Did they do the original release of Steve Reich's MUSIC FOR 18 MUSICIANS (they have the current CD edition), or was that Nonesuch?

I have one other pick from the label's 2018 releases: Kit Downes' OBSIDIAN. It's not jazz, but minimal composition drones in the Terry Riley tradition, performed on organ. I also liked the John Surman album they put out last winter, although I only heard it once on Spotify. The label also releases an amazing amount of music - I am on their mailing list, although not their press list, and they seem to put out an average of 4 albums a month each month.
Re: Nik Bartsch's Ronin
May 30, 2018 11:41AM
I dig those Rydal records as well, but haven't gotten to the Corea/Burton albums yet. (I've just started exploring Burton recently.) I don't know about the Reich record.

The Surman and Downes albums are good - the latter in particular was a surprise to me. I'd also recommend the new ones from Bobo Stenson, Arild Andersen, Thomas Stronen/Time is a Blind Guide, Jakob Bro and Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette.

ECM is as prolific as a metal label. It's impossible to keep up with their flow of releases. I try to cover as much as I can (that I like), but often find myself getting behind, since I have other work as well. I'm kind of in that spot now.



Post Edited (06-13-18 11:07)
Re: Nie Bartsch's Ronin
May 30, 2018 02:08PM
One annoying thing about ECM is that their releases are fairly expensive: $11.99 downloads on iTunes and $18.99 CDs. I don't understand why - they're based in Germany but distributed by Universal in the U.S. It'd be one thing if they were charging extra for 120-minute long albums, but they do this with every single album they put out.
Re: Nik Bartsch's Ronin
May 30, 2018 02:55PM
Oh, I agree. Double CD sets are ridiculously expensive.

I think it comes down to the packaging. Manfred Eicher is proud of the graphics of most ECM releases - paintings and photos purchased or commissioned don't come cheap. But I'd think it'd be balanced out by recording costs. If Eicher produces a release (which he does for probably 90% of them), it's three days in the studio - two to record and one to mix. Even using state-of-the-art equipment, I'd think that would cut down costs quite a bit. Maybe I'm wrong, though - so many of his American signees fly to Europe to record that maybe the ancillory costs eat everything up and he has to charge so much for disks.

It doesn't help that the albums go out of print in just a few years and aren't repressed. Used copies of ECM CDs from ten years ago are usually more expensive than I, at least, would prefer to pay for a used disk. For the 70s and 80s albums, vinyl is usually a better, cheaper option, and their vinyl sounds quite good. Some OOP albums are expensive in any format, though. Trying to find a decently priced copy of ECM's very first release, Mal Waldron's Free At Last, is tough.

They started a reissue campaign about ten years ago where they brought older titles (what they considered classics) back in print in budget-priced digipaks. That series halted at some point, though. His publicist told me a while back that Eicher prefers to spend the label's money on new releases.

He did say in an interview recently that ECM turns a profit, and does it through physical product, rather than downloads. So it must be working for him. I also have no idea how well ECM's classical releases sell (or cost to produce, for that matter).

At least most of their catalog is on the streaming services now.



Post Edited (06-13-18 11:07)
Re: Nie Bartsch's Ronin
June 07, 2018 07:10PM
AWASE is available on Bandcamp, as are several other ECM releases. To the best of my knowledge, ECM is the only label distributed by a major with any albums one can download via Bandcamp, but their prices are insanely high again there! iTunes is actually cheaper. If 85% of the profits are going directly to the label and they get paid the day after each download (as one musician who runs his own label, distributed exclusively through Bandcamp, told me), why charge almost 14 Euro to download an album?
zoo
Re: Nie Bartsch's Ronin
June 08, 2018 07:20PM
I'm listening to this Awase album now. It's really good. Reminds me a bit of the late, great Esbjorn Svensson Trio stuff in that it's piano-based jazz with some interesting non-traditional-to-jazz elements added in. (In Svensson's case, electronic sounds.) I'll have to check out more of his stuff. I had never heard of him until today, so thanks to steevee for the starting this discussion.
Re: Nik Bartsch's Ronin
June 14, 2018 01:26PM
Bartsch brought Ronin to the SXSW one year, playing in a church. My editor wanted me to go, and I was certainly interested, but I begged him to let me go to the Nick Cave show that night instead. It was essentially the debut of Push the Sky Away and I didn't think Cave would come back to Texas for another show. Had I known that not only would they come back the next year but also tape an Austin City Limits, I might've gone to see Bartsch after all. I kind of regret not doing it now. ECM artists in general rarely come to Austin, and the European artists rarely come to the States.

Though in all fairness I saw David Torn and Tim Berne with Dave King from the Bad Plus a couple of years ago, Jack DeJohnette with Ravi Coltrane and Matt Garrison last year and will see Berne again with his Ornette Coleman/Julius Hemphill/Dewey Redman tribute band Broken Shadows next week.



Post Edited (06-14-18 14:30)
Re: Nie Bartsch's Ronin
June 14, 2018 01:48PM
If only you could get Bartsch & Ronin on AUSTIN CITY LIMITS...
Re: Nik Bartsch's Ronin
June 14, 2018 01:54PM
Pretty unlikely, alas. It's hard enough getting jazz of any kind on the show. Herbie Hancock was a rare exception. I keep trying, though!



Post Edited (06-14-18 14:30)
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