Band leader and composer Nik Bärtsch calls it "Zen-Funk", or "Ritual Groove Music". No words, however, can come close to describing the sheer force of Ronin's music either recorded or live. The emotional intensity created by the tight interplay between the five musicians is as exhilarating as the extraordinary lightness with which they wear their stupendous instrumental powers.
Formed in Zurich in 2001, Ronin are Nik Bärtsch (piano, composition), Kaspar Rast (drums), Andi Pupato (percussion), Sha (bass/contrabass clarinet/alto sax) and Thomy Jordi (bass; he replaced founding-member Björn Meyer in 2011). In addition to their tours and performances, for six years, crucially, Ronin have held a concert every Monday in Zurich – since 2009 at club Exil, co-founded by Bärtsch. This long-term experiment encourages and demands constant musical evolution – the result of interaction, attentive listening, and critical, even ironic musical and verbal dialogue. On these Mondays, the musicians eat and play together. In this way Ronin have, over the years, independently created their own phraseology and proceeded blithely but constantly on their own path as a "socio-musical organism" (Bärtsch).
"As the band's composer, I precisely set down most of the pieces in notation," says Bärtsch. "But in live performances it becomes, at some point, impossible to tell what is composed, what is interpreted, and what is improvised." The band has to discover the right tension and the suitable dramatic structure for a piece on the spur of the moment. The band-organism thus outwits not only the composition, but itself. In this way, Ronin work subtly but radically on a collective phrasing which cannot be captured in notation but needs to be acquired in an on-going process of evolution. It can only be gained through practice and patience, through mutual respect and interest, and through the ability to resonate with each other.
Despite the variety of the band's influences, Ronin's music possesses a strong individuality. It incorporates elements of disparate musical worlds, be they Funk, contemporary classical music, or sounds from Japanese ritual music. However, these forms are never merely juxtaposed in a post-modernist fashion but instead amalgamated into a coherent new style. At its core, the music consists of very few phrases and motives, continually combined and layered in new ways. Composition, phrasing, sound structure, performance, and musical form all combine to form a system of interrelated elements. Whilst all this may sound difficult on paper, in practice, Ronin's music is utterly enthralling in its vitality, openness and warmth.
On stage on Wednesday, 8 August between 6pm and 9.30pm.
For more information visit www.nikbaertsch.com/ronin.