After a six-year pause, Swiss pianist Nik Bärtsch re-calibrates his longtime electric jazz group Ronin for 2018 with its leanest, most fluid set yet in Awase. Recorded just this past October in the South of France with intrepid ECM chief Manfred Eicher at the controls, the 47-year-old composer has streamlined his combo from a quintet to a quartet by bidding adieu to percussionist Andi Pupato and recruiting bassist Thomy Jordi to replace Bjorn Meyer, who is off making ECM classics of his own. With these adjustments, however, comes perhaps the strongest set of studio material Ronin has created to date—six compositions of the Schifrin-esque soundtrack funk/polyphonic chamber jazz hybrid Bärtsch calls “ritual groove music”, given further depth with the implementation of Jordi’s four-string bass guitar and more involvement from reedist Sha, contributing an original instrumental called “A” that offers a sonic reprieve from the continuance of the leader’s well-established “Modul” series. Ronin—which also features the propulsive drumming of fellow Swiss Kaspar Rast—makes a most trimphant return with Awase, cementing this innovative band’s place as one of the most exciting acts on ECM today.