September 20, 2000
Buzz ZZ 76012
Comparisons are odious, but if anyone could be characterized as the Thelonious Monk of Europe it would be Dutch pianist/composer Misha Mengelberg. Headman of the little recorded Instant Composers Pool Orchestra, he's also the theoretician behind the creative musical irony which underlines much of what we know as post modern Dutch —and by extension — European jazz.
Suddenly, though, we have two ways to appreciate Mengelberg's art, discs that could be the 1990s versions of MONK'S MUSIC and THELONIOUS HIMSELF. In fact, on the orchestra CD, you could even say that the pianist has his own Art Blakey in long-time drummer-collaborator Han Bennink and, to stretch the point even further, his own John Coltrane in saxophonist/clarinetist An Baars.
But comparisons can only go so far. Mengelberg can merely be compared to Monk because like Thelonious he never imitates anyone else. A 65 year old European, he's steeped in the classical tradition that naturally inhabit his creations, the same way gospel songs and stride piano are sewn into Monk's musical fabric.
This is more obvious on SOLO, where a certain half-serious Continental formalism creeps into some of the performances, where it gets mixed with an early Tin Pan Alley sensibility. "Koekoek", for instance, is much closer to a 18th century jig than a 1920s slow drag and "Wok Afhaal" almost sounds like a piano lesson gone mad, with Mengelberg leaping from the very highest to the very lowest keys of the instrument. "Knebus", on the other hand — although much more outrightly harmonious — resembles Monk's takes on early 20th century pop songs.
Is the intentional literal heavy-handedness on "Salz" intended as a salute to Monk? Maybe. In particular sections there the pianist almost sounds as if he's physically bending the keyboard to follow his ideas. Still, it resembles Thelonious' conception a lot more than "Bill Evans En Dàn" sounds like Bill Evans. And what about "Boezimann"? Although it look as if it's named for Mengelberg's one time trio partner, saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, the improvisations here move back and forth from blues to pseudo show tune music, not exactly the German saxophonist's forté.
Possibly it's best not to try to understand Mengelberg too quickly, but instead listen to the album repeatedly to probe its nuances.
The situation get a little more complicated on JUBILEE VARIA, since Mengelberg is not only a soloist and composer, but also the ringmaster of a circus tent full of distinctive — and pretty anarchistic — personalities. Consider the trumpet asides and consistent string undertones that sound like a buzzing refrigerator which underline the most tender passages on "A Bit Nervous Jealous? Me?" or cellist Reijseger suddenly deciding his instrument is a guitar and starting to pluck it that way on "Next Subject". Later on the same tune Wierbos injects a few horse whinnies into his solo before concluding with some velvety phrases. Moreover are those snatches of a Kurt Weill opera coming from the strings on the same tune, or is it a Dutch version of a hoe-down? Here at last Baars gets to let loose on a bombastic Trane-ride, but the explosions are on the traditional clarinet, not the modern jazz-associated saxophone.
Plus there's always Bennink with whom to contend. Rhythm may be his business, but that doesn't mean that there has to be any particular pattern other than his own talents to what he plays. Some might even claim that he goes out of his way to confuse the frontline with odd emphasis and unexpected snare drum attacks. Thus, since the soloists themselves are told to only use Mengelberg's tunes as guides for their own desires — this is the instant composers pool after all — something like "Rollo I" may end up barely resembling the Teutonic tango melody that Heberer is trying to play at the beginning.
The composer himself is guilty of sonic subterfuge as well. Note the crafty, out-of-left-field accents he tosses into "Rollo I" and how he feints, fades and frolics when facing Bennink alone on "Jubilee Varia 1".
Like Monk's music in general, anything put on disc by Mengelberg and the ICP Orchestra is a rare commodity that should be treasured. Discover that yourself.
— Ken Waxman
Solo: Track Listing: 1. Boodschappenlijst IV 2. Koekoek Richard Wagner Gewidmet: 3. Reef 4. Knebus 5. Salz 6. Ik Heb Een Turquoise Muts 7. Wok Afhaal 8. Bill Evans En Dàn 9. Boezimann
Personnel: Misha Mengelberg (piano)
Jubilee: Track Listing: Jubilee Varia Suite: 1. 2. 3. Jealousy Suite: 4. A Bit Nervous Jealous? Me? 5. Next Subject 6. Rollo I
Personnel: Thomas Herberer (trumpet); Wolter Wierbos (trombone); Ab Baars (clarinet, tenor saxophone); Michael Moore (clarinet, alto saxophone); Ernst Reijseger, Tristan Honsinger (cello); Misha Mengelberg (piano); Ernst Glerum (bass); Han Bennink (drums)