Nik Bärtsch gets rocking with his Rhythm Clan at Kings Place

This was a very slick band. From where I was sitting I could see the hands of drummer Kaspar Rast, reflected in the glossy sheen of Nik Bärtsch’s Steinway. These hands were always moving, countering the piano with a precision that implied a mystical symbiosis. A black film on the back skin of the bass drum, rippling in oily shudders, sucked in the light with each beat. Bärtsch is a clinical band leader whose movements have come to take on the mischievousness worthy of his Zurich home. His pale-faced, caricatured expressions and clinical hand gestures are a 21st century Zurich DADA distilled through the tightest of rhythmic prisms. With the fuller 8 piece canvass we were drawn through a broader range of soundscapes than the original Ronin line-up. Bärtsch himself is completely at home on the grand, willing to explore its sonic possibilities without ever being gimmicky. The brass section was neatly choreographed, obeying the solitary proffered index finger of bass clarinettist, Sha, who hulked front stage with all his exotic energy. Yet the playful authoritarianism was always being tempted off course by the individual musicians all fighting for their place in the groove. Generally controlled by the slick aesthetic, a memorable break came from Michael Flury’s rich and heady trombone. As a group they have moved beyond mere performance into trances of musical presence in distorted time – Zen-funk. Rhythmic polyphonies were ushered in either with dramatic impact, or via extended periods of simple against compound beats, an experience that felt as if the mind were being torn in two directions cell by cell, indistinguishable and leading to a state of indefinite focus: waves of heavy groove in a tidal drift of time signatures. Either way, this was an ensemble with real flexibility and musical charisma, which had its audience trembling for more.

      – Will Kemp

The Write Stuff

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