Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin is the Zen-Funk band on the prestigious ECM Record label. Nik Bärtsch’s Ronins incorporate elements of disparate musical worlds, be they funk, new classical music or repetitive sounds from Japanese ritual music. The band will headline Smida Jazz Festival (find more here) between 15th and 17th of August in the Apuseni Mountains. Find about Nik Bärtsch in the interview below.
CVLT: Hello! Given the state of mainstream culture that permeates how we consume media, how would you introduce your music to a stranger?
Nick: Depends on the stranger. If the stranger would be Tom Waits I would say: It sounds like an Armadillo on Japanese green tea.
Please, share with us your first memories approaching the piano. What makes this instrument so special to you?
When I was 8, I saw a boy playing Boogie-Woogie on an upright, went home and told my mother: „I want to learn piano, not children songs but THIS music“. She took me seriously and look for a private teacher since there was nobody teaching this at the official music school.
The piano is everything: a percussion pad, a full orchestra, an intimate instrument, a sound monster, a mind protocol machine, an abstract beauty. It is an ideal partner and mirror to see yourself behind the empty mirror.
Was it the way you listened to jazz that enabled you to learn to play?
From the very beginning on I loved rhythms and grooves. I did not specifically listen to jazz but openly to all sorts of music. When I was 9 years old, we went on a journey through Romania and heard Romanian folk music on a festival and we bought some records that I still listen too. The phrasing and the rhythms totally captured me already as a child.
A lifelong struggle towards radiance and grace sounds like a description of your journey in your spiritual beliefs. Can you comment on this?
I hope to be able to answer this at the end of my journey. But generally I do not feel it as a struggle but more as a learning process.
What do you feel is the best song you’ve ever release and why?
There is no best track. Every piece has a special theme and character. But Modul 35 shows most of the principles very clear. I wrote this complex piece with lightness in a very short period of time very intuitively. I can not understand myself, how this was possible.
How do you assimilate the influence of the people in your band?
This is of course very essential: we are a working band which means that every player has a strong individual character and musical knowledge. I know for whom I write in this case and I especially know the attitude behind the playing. We are talking a lot about phrasing, dynamics, sound and dramaturgy. So the band is an individual organism independent of the composer. They need to work together, otherwise it does not work.
Do you ever have moments where you’re playing and it’s evolved to something different from what you thought you would be playing?
Yes, this is the idea of performing.
When you perform live, how do you want your audience to feel as they leave the show?
I do not want to direct the poetic freedom of the audience. Not in words not with ideas. Every person and every audience as an organism has an own spirit. So it is also in the responsibility of every being to connect to the music.
But I can say that I play this music and share it, because it gives me energy, power and calmness to enjoy the cosmic wonder of live and to be creative together with other people.
And what does it mean to play and live in the millennial generation of jazz artists? What do you borrow from those who came before you, and what do you do to push the genre forward?
I like Strawinsky’s statement, that every musical piece is a comment to all the pieces before this piece. I think the music chooses the composers, players and performers, not the opposite. The music is the eternal stream of energy we are part of. We borrow the creativity from this stream. I am grateful to live now but I don’t question it. I am in terms of time and aesthetics neutral and focused on the poetic process of creating. Strawinsky’s statement is here a true inspiration.
It seems that the whole concept of what music is or what music should sound like these days is suffering. People lose appreciation for real good sound. How do you feel about that?
I observe more a diversification of different interests and ways if listening. This is not only challenging, it has also positive aspects. I experience a lot of people who install again a good soundsystem and who are attending live concerts with interest and a focused listening attitude.
Do you feel like there is a future for new artists or poets? I ask this because someone brought to my attention that a lot of jazz musicians, particularly now, may look down on poetry.
Poetry and arts are fundamental creative expressions of mankind, so there always is a rich past, lively presence and promising future for it. But it also needs consequent artists who live for and take the challenges of such a life.
“Awase” it’s not jazz in the conventional sense, and in this regard will only suit so many ears. What are its main themes and how would it (the album) be served best? What important messages are we missing as listeners?
Awase means “moving together” in the sense of matching or blending, not synchron but as one organism. It is what really present musicians do together when the play really tight and improvise naturally together. It looks easy and fun although it is a big challenge. The principle of Awase can help us to connect and focus more on togetherness.
Smida Jazz Festival, the show you are going to headline is possibly unlike any other festival you could go here in Romania. The festival is not just a presentation of some great music but also celebrates the area in which it takes place – the amazing Apuseni Nature Park. Have you played before in such location? What do you expect the most from this festival?
It is the first time for us at Smida Jazz Festival, so we are very happy and thrilled to present our music on such a special and known festival spot. We played a few crazy outdoor venues like Jarasum Jazz Festival in Korea or a shrine near Otsu in Japan, but the connection to nature here seems outstanding.
We know you’ve been to Romania before, how did you find it?
It was for me always from the very beginning a wonderful experience and a dream came true because I was as mentioned on a Romanian trip with my family in my childhood. I have beautiful memories and we created a book with impressions from that trip which I still have. Romania is an important music and culture nation with outstanding artists in many fields and with a sophisticated audience, so it is a great pleasure and honor to play here regularly!
Images belong to Nik Bärtsch’s RONIN and Smida Jazz Festival
Cultartes is media partner of Smida Jazz Festival.