ICP Orchestra in Seattle, WA
“ The ensemble's primary composer, pianist Mengelberg is a spoiler, a trickster, Coyote energy personified. The worm in the apple, the virus in the computer, he seems to delight in constructing elaborate forms then reveling in their destruction and partial reassembly. ”
March 25, 2006
New Dutch Swing is the phrase coined by critic Kevin Whitehead - who wrote a book of the same name - to describe the music of the ICP (Instant Composers Pool) Orchestra, the Willem Breuker Kollektief, Bik Bent Braam and other members of the vital improvised music scene in Holland. Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennink and Breuker were co-founders of ICP in 1967. In Seattle as part of a rare U.S. tour, long-time ICP compatriots Mengelberg and Bennink were ceaselessly creative and irreverent (as always).
The group consists of Mengelberg, piano and voice; Bennink, drums; Mary Oliver, violin and viola; Tristan Honsinger, cello; Ernst Glerum, bass; Ab Baars, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Tobias Delius, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Michael Moore, alto saxophone and clarinet; Thomas Heberer, trumpet; and Wolter Wierbos, trombone. Oliver, Honsinger and Moore are U.S. expatriates; the other members are Dutch.
The ensemble's primary composer, pianist Mengelberg is a spoiler, a trickster, Coyote energy personified. The worm in the apple, the virus in the computer, he seems to delight in constructing elaborate forms then reveling in their destruction and partial reassembly. He is an elliptical maestro of mystifying magic and metrical manipulation, juggling allusions and illusions. Mengelberg is a provocateur, an absurdist, using aural montage and collage in a provocative and waggish manner, often rife with self-mockery and self-deprecation. Thelonious Monk was one of his early musical influences and inspirations. The eccentric genius of Monk remains an important part of Mengelberg's roots. Regeneration (Soul Note 121 054-2) documented his continuing reinvestigation and reinvigoration of Monk's legacy and was also instrumental in rekindling interest in the long-neglected works of Herbie Nichols, another sui generis composer, improviser and pianist.
One of Monk's lesser-known pieces, "Locomotive," in an arrangement by Michael Moore, highballed along with no braking or whistles at the crossings in its Seattle performance. The strings of violinist Mary Oliver, cellist Tristan Honsinger and bassist Ernst Glerum were to the fore as the engine built a head of steam, stoked by Bennink's drums. Trombonist Wolter Wierbos displayed his mastery of mutes, including the plunger, in his engaging solo. When tenor saxophonist Ab Baars was well into his off-center solo I was reminded of a comment I once read (source unknown) likening Albert Ayler to a cranky but loveable grandmother who bakes apple pies and farts a lot. A slightly warped Swing-era 78? Throwing a crowbar on the tracks just to see/hear what happens? Many of the rhythms and tempos utilized by ICP are pre-Swing · sometimes even "pre-jazz" · often with little if any syncopation. It's a bit like walking into a jazz club expecting to hear bebop and marching out at the end of the night with echoes of James Reese Europe and the early jazz of Sam Wooding (African American bandleaders who left a lasting impression on European audiences during the early years of the 20th Century), European cabaret music, circus bands, chamber music, and marching bands ringing in your head. This "Locomotive" also hearkened back to the take-no-prisoners Harlem stride of Luckey Roberts and James P. Johnson; a style abstracted by Monk in what Whitney Balliett called "[his] vinegary, dissonant, Gothic music." It was a cheery if odd train ride, more akin to polkas and schottisches than bebop and the avant-garde.
Mengelberg was associated with the Fluxus movement from 1961 through 1964, and presented a composition at the Fluxus Festival of 1964, the same year he and Bennink recorded the famous Last Date session with the late Eric Dolphy. His affinity with Stan Vanderbeek, Peter Brötzmann, Yoko Ono, Charlotte Moorman, Nam June Paik and other participants in the Fluxus movement is still evident forty-something years later. The ICP's music is always in a state of fluxion: change is the only constant. Paik's cryptic observation: "I...must renew the ontological form of music..." comes to mind.
He could be considered something of a latter-day Dadaist as well. The rumbling, dark, dissonant low-register chords and oblique left-hand melodies, the off-key whistling, the "vocals" based on nonsense syllables and invented languages, the presumably purposefully tentative-sounding entrances - such as the one in this concert's first full-ensemble piece where he tweaked and probed at the composition's innards - are all slightly askew. It's a funhouse mirror view of comprovisation: like carefully molding a fondant then dropping a sauté pan on it and delighting in the splatter.