Nik Bärtsch – Entendre (ECM 2021)

Nik Bärtsch – Entendre (ECM 2021)

Mar 20, 2021 0 By Marcello Nardi

As an accolade of eulogies are celebrating Chick Corea, the swiss zen funk maestro Nik Bärtsch hails his second solo album, Entendre. Yet dissimilar, the two can be easily linked through a thin, hidden thread. Both explored an in intense and idiosyncratic way the percussive side of their piano. The fusion maverick once said he coinceived piano like a great big marimba. Or a percussion instrument. There’s so many possibilities of putting it together when you’ve got 10 mallets and 88 drums. Could’ve been in someway said by Bärtsch either.

Entendre, his second solo album and first solo on ECM, is rooted in the same polyrhythmic vision, which is a trademark of the Swiss pianist. A vision stemming from the zen funk meditative and pulsing force, that eventually evolved in a new areas, mainly through the experiences with Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin.  This time his pianisim is on the spot, takes the center of the stage and, thanks to the Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo studio, is pristine, revelative and crystal-clear. The rendition of pieces already in his repertoire is now revealing leanings into Eastern music, following his Asian tour in 2017. His modul based tracks are -according to his words- a basic training in martial arts, which can be adapted to all sorts of situations. My way of working is to create new contexts. Each piece plays with the idea of composition, interpretation and improvisation, and is nourished by the same force, yet can create very surprising results…

Nik Bärtsch starts his solo journey from a mix of Module 58 and Modul 12, the first from latest Ronin‘s output Awas, the latter from previous Nik Bartsch’s MobileIt just developed in that direction in the studio -says Bärtsch. I didn’t plan it or expect it to open up in that way. The combination of these two pieces is maybe not a coincidence but more of an inner call. With a vivid celebration in the beginning, an opening flight that then goes to emptiness, stillness and breathing space. The almost progressive rock percussionism in Modul 58 is now shimmering, distinctively mixed and surgically clear. The driving force behind the track, which originally exploded in an incredible pinnacle in the rendition featured in Awase, now makes even clearer the work of the left hand (interestingly my wife nods at the style of Banco del Mutuo Soccorso‘s Vittorio Nocenzi in his solo album Estremo Occidente..). 

The studio recording emphasizes the spectrum of frequencies, mainly the higher, which Bärtsch nurtures in Modul 26. The roots placed in minimalism and the reichian style of repeating patterns here are distinctively clear. After a counterpoint is added on the bass register at around the seventh minute mark, the track instantly grows in a looser and multicolored funk unit, thus creating an interesting clash of precision and groove. 

The closing piece, Déjà-vu, Vienna, is the second non-modul titled piece in his discography, after Awase‘s A. And in a certain sense they both share a kind of more emotionally-oriented approach. Déjà-vu, Vienna starts from Holon‘s Modul 26 intro and then moves in a simple descending chord progression on the bass register. There are references potentially to other modules here and there interacting and moving on top, before an haunting melody, clearly inspired by Armenian music, gets in at the third minute mark.

The minimalism of Nik Bärtsch‘s pianism is disembodied and carried in a territory where repetition is not the pure sign of what we once called minimalism genre -and now should be called postminimalism. Through repetition he explores newer dimensions of expressions, digging in his reportoire and exploring again the depths of the expression.


all compositions by Nik Bärtsch
produced by Manfred Eicher
recorded by Stefano Amerio
ECM 2073, 2021

Modul 58_12 08:57

Modul 55 08:44

Modul 26 13:55

Modul 13 06:22

Modul 5 10:06

Déjà-Vu, Vienna 05:15

Nik Bärtsch, piano