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Misha Mengelberg

Misha Mengelberg was born in Kiev in 1935 - the son of a Dutch composer/conductor/pianist and a German harpist - but is a lifelong resident of Amsterdam, where he teaches counterpoint at the Sweelinck Conservatory. He wrote his first piece for piano at age four and has been composing pretty much ever since, in the jazz and classical fields. Crucial early influences include jazz pianists Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols, the composer John Cage, whom he heard lecture at Darmstadt in 1958, and the absurd-art movement Fluxus, with which he was involved in the 1960s.

Mengelberg graduated from the Royal Conservatory in the Hague in 1964. The same year he made his first issued recording, Eric Dolphy’s “Last Date“. That album also features drummer Han Bennink, with whom Misha has had a longstanding duo. In 1966 Mengelberg’s quartet appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival in the USA. The following year Mengelberg, Bennink and Willem Breuker founded the Instant Composers Pool, a landmark in the development of an independent Dutch improvised music, which draws on jazz but does not restrict itself to any one style or aesthetic. (By the time of its 30th anniversary in 1997, ICP Records was the longest " running musician-owned label in improvised music). In the same period he wrote several “game pieces“ for musicians, notably “Hello! Windyboys“ (1968), over a decade before such gaming became common.

In the 1970s Mengelberg was artistic director of the electronic music workshop STEIM (Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music), served as first chairman of the Dutch improvising musicians’ union BIM, and began leading the Instant Composer's Pool Orchestra. He also recorded in trios with Bennink and either South African saxophonist Dudu Pukwana or German reed player Peter Brozmann, and in duet with is wife’s parrot Eeko. Along with Breuker, Mengelberg is largely responsible for the creation of Dutch “music theatre“, which contains heavy doses of absurdity and improvisation, musical and theatrical.

In the '80s Mengelberg presented many music theatre productions and embarked on repertory projects exploring the music of Herbie Nichols, Thelenious Monk and Duke Ellington, with ICP (documented on their CDs “Two Programs - the ICP Orchestra Performs Nichols-Monk“ and “Bospaadje Konijnehol I”, both on the ICP label) and quintets with Bennink and saxophonist Steve Lacy, heard on the albums “Regeneration“ and “Change of Season“ (Soul Note). His recordings in the ‘90s include two acclaimed trio CDs taped in New York with drummer Joey Baron, “Who’s Bridge“ (Avant) and “No Idea“ (DIW); the solo piano recital “Mix“ (ICP) and a duo recording with Bennink, “MiHA“ (both on ICP), and “Jubilee Varia”, a 1997 recording by the ICP Orchestra (hatOLOGY). He also participated with improvised meetings with various European and American musicians, for several labels.

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Liner Notes

Yuri Honing: North Sea Jazz Legendary Concerts

Read "Yuri Honing: North Sea Jazz Legendary Concerts" reviewed by Ian Patterson

It's fitting that saxophonist, composer and quiet visionary Yuri Honing should be acknowledged as one of the pivotal voices in the history of the Netherland's world-renowned North Sea Jazz festival, described in 1990 by Jazz Times as “the best jazz festival in the world." Honing's first appearance at the NSJF's was in 1995, where he performed with pianist {Michiel Bortslap}}'s sextet. Since then, he has played all but three of the last 18 editions, reflecting his status alongside pianist Misha ...

Album Review

Misha Mengelberg: Rituals Of Transition

Read "Rituals Of Transition" reviewed by Mark Corroto

It takes a master to speak like a child. Pianist Misha Mengelberg (1935-2017) was such a giant at the keyboard that he could shed all pretension and improvise with a simple innocence. Call it Zen enlightenment or just a blunt brilliance. His music is often absurd and paradoxical, like an inside joke, except he graciously lets us all in on the pranks. Rituals Of Transition is a collection of solo performances recorded from 2002 through 2010 in The ...


Misha Mengelberg: More than Instant Composition

Read "Misha Mengelberg: More than Instant Composition" reviewed by Clifford Allen

If one takes a swath of the most influential and valuable jazz composers and bandleaders of the last 50 years, one gets one (or both) of two things: a handful of pianists and more questions and inconsistencies than clear lineage. However, just as Steve Lacy found in both Monk's music and free jazz “a door to the other side , so the riddles and puzzles of composition in an idiom that has increasingly seen organization yield to freedom are a ...

Album Review

Misha Mengelberg Quartet: Four In One

Read "Four In One" reviewed by Mark Corroto

Most outings between drummer Han Bennink and pianist Misha Mengelberg leave listeners wondering just when the proverbial 'kitchen sink' will be tossed-in. Together, the pair are anything but conservative in their approach to music. Beginning with Eric Dolphy's Last Date in 1964 and continuing for the next four decades, they have carried the Dutch jazz scene with their work in the ICP Orchestra and various collaborations. Mengelberg is a true champion of the music of both Thelonious Monk and Herbie ...

Album Review

Misha Mengelberg: Solo

Read "Solo" reviewed by Mark Corroto

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 ...

Album Review

Misha Mengelberg: Two Days in Chicago

Read "Two Days in Chicago" reviewed by Robert Spencer

Like Jubilee Varia (hatOLOGY 528), this 2CD-set illustrates the dangerous, death-defying, life-enhancing pianistic and compositional talents of Misha Mengelberg, the world's challenging Dutch leader of these ever-memorable Two Days in Chicago. Also like Jubilee Varia, this disc features some of the foremost improvisers on the scene today, all stoked to new heights by the combustible talents of Mengelberg. Here the standouts are tenor saxophonists Fred Anderson, Ken Vandermark and Ab Baars (who doubles on clarinet), plus cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and ...

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Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Rituals Of Transition

I Dischi Di Angelica


North Sea Jazz...

Bob City Records


Jubilee Varia

Hat Hut Records










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