The intimacy of jazz has always been its most powerful draw. The listener, somewhat of a voyeur to the musician’s inner soul, is positioned either at a live concert, or in the case of a quality recording, at a comfortable (or uncomfortable) distance. Here the listener catches the creative act at its fountainhead.
Misha Mengelberg’s music has always been an endless source of creative vigor. The 65 year-old pianist made his first recording with the traveling Eric Dolphy in 1964 and began a long-standing association with drummer Han Bennink. Mengelberg has woven a career and life around jazz and classical music, Fluxus art, and improvisation, always improvisation. His alliance with Bennink and saxophonist Steve Lacy has associated him with the American innovators Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols. His work with Bennink, Peter Brotzmann, and the ICP orchestra has kept his mind in the world of free-improvised music. Of note are two trio records No Idea (DIW) with Americans Joey Baron and Greg Cohen, and Who’s Bridge (Avant) with Baron and Brad Jones. Mengelberg plays around with the classic jazz trio, inserting his droll (and very non-American) freedom to standards and his original music. His record Regeneration (Soul Note) with Steve Lacy, Roswell Rudd, and Han Bennink is considered a five-star classic recording of Monk and Nichols.
This Solo outing recorded in December of 1999 wanders between improvised jazz and improvised classical (not an oxymoron) forms. The immediacy of the music is conspicuous. As he counts off the opener, translated as “shopping list #4” you’re lulled than surprised by his fierce attack. He warms you up, tossing Handel-like music in “Koekok” (Cuckoo), and three tracks dedicated to Richard Wagner. Mengelberg flirts with classical forms moving in and out of composed pieces and improvisation, sometimes appearing to pause, in thought or just to make a point. His “Broezimann,” dedicated to the German powerful free jazz saxophonist Peter Brotzmann, is surprisingly sweet and gentle (I believe may be a glimpse into the mellow soul of the noisiest of saxophonists). Mengelberg isn’t performing here for an audience or being coaxed by the funnyman Bennink. This is Mengelberg’s response to Keith Jarrett’s The Melody At Night, And You. He’s performing, seemingly for an audience of one. It doesn’t get more intimate than that.