Nik Bartsch's Ronin Credit: Jonas Holthaus

After Ronin, the long-running band of Swiss pianist and composer Nik Bartsch, dropped its 2010 studio album, Llyria (ECM), the group experienced some major personnel shifts. In 2011 six-string bassist Björn Meyer left the group and was replaced by Thomy Jordi, who plays a conventional four-string model. When percussionist Andi Pupato split a year later, Bartsch chose to shrink his quintet into a foursome. This month, the new lineup has finally released a new record. While Awase (ECM) is clearly the product of a leaner combo than that heard on Llyria—with Jordi taking a more rhythmic approach to the bass lines than Meyer—the leader has held fast to his minimalist vision, producing a hypnotic matrix where individual parts move furtively in improvisational flurries. Bartsch calls his work “ritual groove music,” and while I’m not sure what the ritual is, there’s no missing the groove. His piano lines form inextricable connections to the stuttery percussive patterns of drummer Kaspar Rast and the steely architecture of Jordi’s electric lines, while reedist Sha remains perpetually free, locking in with the group or roaming as he desires. All of the musicians get their opportunities to leave the nest with extended solo passages, but they never lose their keen sense of groove; solos in Ronin are always woven into the rhythm versus strutting out front and center. The new album is the first to include a tune by someone other than the leader—“A” is by Sha—and a couple of the pieces are reconfigured versions of pieces the quintet recorded. In the case of “Module 60” (all of Bartsch’s pieces use the word module followed by a number), they’ve revamped a piece recorded by the leader’s acoustic project, Mobile.   v