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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Misha Mengelberg (1935 - 2017)

ICP Orchestra, (le) poisson rouge, March 31, 2011 © Peter Gannushkin

By Martin Schray

On Friday, March 3rd the great Dutch pianist, band leader, comedian, neo-dadaist and chain smoker Misha Mengelberg passed away. Although it was to be expected since he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s some years ago, it is still sad because Mengelberg was one of the pioneers of the European free jazz scene, especially its Dutch branch. In 1967 he founded the Instant Composers Pool, an organization which promoted avant-garde Dutch jazz performances and recordings, with Han Bennink and Willem Breuker, and the ICP Orchestra, apart from Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra and Barry Guy’s London Jazz Composer’s Orchestra the longest-established European free jazz big band, also with his congenial partner Bennink.

At least the ICP Orchestra would carry on without him, that was his plan when it was clear that his Alzheimer’s symptoms grew more acute. Mengelberg always had ways to withdraw himself from the band: "I can add something to what the others do, or I can leave it out. It's not essential for me to play at all, unless I want to fuck it up, or to make them do something else" - a typical Mengelberg quotation.

My personal favorites have always been his duo albums with Han Bennink, like einepartietischtennis, Coincidents or Bennink Mengelberg (all on ICP) - all exuberant examples of enthusiasm, humor and and a deep understanding of jazz history combined with expressive free outbreaks. Their most important motivation seemed to be the suspension of all conventional musical rules, yet behind this seeming anarchy there was a deep sense for precision and discipline based on a real respect and an extraordinary ability to listen and react to each other. Even after 40 years these classic recordings have not lost their fascination.

Eugene Chadboure said about this duo: "One of my favorite things is that something very serious and very funny is going on at the same time. It totally confuses the audience - they don't know if you're trying to be funny or serious, when in fact you're both." True words.

Now Misha Mengelberg has lost his fight against Alzheimer’s disease. He’ll be missed by all in the jazz community.

Here's an excerpt from the Mengelberg/Bennink duo before a gig with the ICP Orchestra which says more than all I can write:


Tom Burris said...

Thanks Martin. RIP Mr. Mengelberg.

Stef said...

Thanks Martin, well written. One of the icons of European free improv. He added his own personal contribution to music history. A great person.

Lee said...

Great writing as usual, Martin, in this much-appreciated tribute.

Dr. Skim (aka Peter) said...

I love the duo recordings too. Since you're a fan of Coincidents, can you clarify something for me? They were originally issued on two cassettes, approx. 40 minutes per side is that right? In the big ICP box set, it's issued as ICP 017 disk 1 & 2 and ICP 018 disk 1 & 2 -- but it looks like they may have duplicated the same music on ICP 017 disk 1 & 2. That's the case with mine anyway, and it looks like the download version (available on Amazon) has the same issue. I'm trying to figure out (a) if my box is defective, (b) if all the boxes duplicated the music this way, or (c) if the original cassette was always set up like this, with the tray label asserting that there's different music on the two sides of the cassette even though it's the same!