Nik Bärtsch's Mobile


About Nik Bärtsch's Mobile

Keyboardist Nik Bärtsch (at times spelled "Baertsch") is a player, composer, and improviser very much in the style of European classical-oriented jazz, but he's created a language that transcends these basic categories. A native and resident of Zurich, Switzerland born in 1971, he began his nine-year piano studies at age nine, and briefly took up clarinet. Listening to blues, jazz, and string quartets, Béla Bartók, Igor Stravinsky, and ethnic musics from Japan, Greece, Romania, and Sweden, has shaped his personalized music. Initially influenced by Chick Corea, Bärtsch attended the Zurich Musikhochschule, then studied philosophy, linguistics, and musicology at the University of Zurich. While attending, he began listening to 20th century modernist, avant-garde composers John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Steve Reich, thus fusing a multiplicity of disciplines. He first met drummer Kaspar Rast in 1980, who became a rhythmic fixture in his ensembles Mobile and Ronin. He performed and toured with the European guitarist Harald Haerter before performing and recording solo and trio efforts, leading to his initial small ensembles for the Swiss-based Tonus label. When Mobile evolved into Ronin in 2001, Bärtsch established his distinct and unique ritual groove music, playing every Monday at the night club Montags in Zurich, and attracting attention for his spiritual, minimalist, ethnic, rhythm & blues elevated music; it has generally been called "zen funk. Bärtsch described his sound in an interview saying, "to me, music is an art of motion, and thus akin to dancing, an ecstatic groove and an ascetic awareness of form and sound in composed music are not mutually exclusive. They can form combinations that take our senses by surprise." Over the years, he has retained that regular early week gig when not touring greater Europe, Canada, or the U.S. ECM Records owner Manfred Eicher recognized not only Bärtsch's original approach, but its similarity to the music the label has championed since the early '70s. He signed Ronin in 2006, beginning with the album Stoa. Ronin expanded to a quintet with Rast, percussionist Andi Pupato, bassist Björn Meyer, and saxophonist/bass clarinetist/ guitarist Sha. Holon followed in 2008 to wider acclaim. In 2009, Bärtsch and a business partner opened the club Exil in Zurich, and he became, one of three co-artistic directors of the city's Apples and Olives Festival. Bärtsch, ever confident in his band's musical potential, expanded his composing palette. Moving further afield from the "zen funk" that typified both Mobile and Ronin up to that point, he began employing elements of modern classical composition in their repertoire. This new direction was documented on 2010's Llyrìa. Ronin Live, issued in 2012, documented concert recordings from 2009 through 2011. After Ronin's intense touring and recording activity of the previous few years, Bärtsch settled into running his club and working on Apples and Olives, spending time with his family, and teaching. Bärtsch formally resurrected Mobile in late 2014. The quartet included Sha, Rast, and new drummer Nicholas Stocker (Bells for Pony, Marylane). The bandleader extended the ensemble for his next recording with a string quintet -- that included violinist Etienne Abelin (his co-artistic director of Apples and Olives). This group recorded Continuum in Lugano during March of 2015 with Eicher as producer. It was a released a year later ahead of an international tour. ~ Thom Jurek

Zürich, Switzerland