Keyboardist Nik Bärtsch (at times spelled "Baertsch") is a player, composer, and improviser very much in the European classical-oriented style of jazz, but has created a language that transcends these basic categories. A native and resident of Zurich, Switzerland born in 1971, he began his nine-year piano studies at age nine, and also briefly took up clarinet. Listening to blues, jazz, and string quartets, Béla Bartók, Igor Stravinsky, and ethnic musics from Japan, Greece, Romania, and Sweden have all shaped his personalized music. Initially influenced by Chick Corea, Bärtsch attended the Zurich Musikhochschule, then studied philosophy, linguistics, and musicology at the University of Zurich. It was then that he was listening to modern 20th century composers John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Steve Reich, thus fusing the multiplicity of disciplines. In 1980 he first met drummer Kaspar Rast, who is a rhythmic fixture in his ensembles, Mobile and Ronin. He performed and toured with the European guitarist Harald Haerter before performing and recording solo and trio efforts, leading to his initial small ensembles for the Swiss based Tonus label. When Mobile evolved into Ronin by 2001, Bärtsch established his distinct and unique ritual groove music, playing every Monday night at the night club Montags in Zurich, and attracting attention and an audience for his spiritual, minimalist, ethnic, rhythm & blues elevated music that has generally been termed "Zen funk". Occasionally Mobile, featuring Rast and marimba player Mats Eser, regroup to perform. As Bärtsch describes his sound, "to me, music is an art of motion, and thus akin to dancing, an ecstatic groove and an ascetic awareness of form and sound in composed music are not mutually exclusive. They can form combinations that take our senses by surprise." Over the years, Bärtsch has retained that regular early week gig while touring greater Europe, reaching Canada and the U.S. in 2007. ECM records owner Manfred Eicher recognized not only Bärtsch's original approach, but its similarity to the music the label has championed since the early '70s, and signed them, beginning with the revelatory CD Stoa. Ronin expanded to a quintet, with stalwart Rast, percussionist Andi Pupato, bassist Björn Meyer, and saxophonist/bass clarinetist Sha. "The band," says Bärtsch, "has simply reached a much higher level of playing, and as an organism is much further developed." ~ Michael G. Nastos, RoviPortions of Content Provided by Rovi Corporation.
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