Nik Bärtsch ‘Entendre’ LP/CD (ECM) 3/5

“Entendre” is a fascinating solo album from Swiss pianist, composer and conceptualist Nik Bärtsch. Recorded at Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano studio, the ‘Modal’ pieces presented here offer an insight into the pianist’s way of thinking and his musical character, illuminated by his dynamic, polymetric playing and the nature of his modular soundscapes.

In these six solo realisations, Bärtsch’s creative music unfolds with heightened alertness and dexterity as the pieces develop and unfurl with texture and subtlety of touch. The pianist finds freedom in aesthetic restriction, while also seizing opportunities to guide the music to new places of discovery.

Bartsch’s solo work has been developing in parallel to his group activities over the last few years. Some key moments in this regard have included his solo appearance at ECM’s 50th anniversary celebration at New York’s Lincoln Center in 2019, as well as performances in ongoing collaboration with visual artist Sophie Clements. A solo piano tour in 2017 prompted rumination on the intertwined relationships of solo performance and ritual music in different cultures, influencing the preparatory work for this album.

The pianist likens his ‘Modal’ pieces to “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.” In a similar way to how Keith Jarrett develops some of his more modulular solo offerings, the pieces on the surface appear repetitious, with a groove or motif reoccurring and gradually changing in context and texture. The secrets to be found lie in the subtlety. Patience, intense focus and lightness may well be among the qualities required to play this music, yet it is also fair to say that it is their attributes that are also required of the listener. In playing solo Bärtsch attempts, he says, “to let go and flow in the piece and transcend the egocentric way of forcing the music, finding a higher level of freedom in agreement with the form of the work.” By approaching this music in the same way, the listener will undoubtedly be rewarded with the best experience.

Mike Gates