ICP Orchestra

Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center Buffalo, New York April 7
CODA Issue 334

Usually a good part of the creativity involved in any performance by Amsterdam’s ICP Orchestra results from the dynamic tension between pianist Misha Mengelberg’s phlegmatic note ruminations and quirky compositions and the flamboyantly theatrical antics of the 10-piece band’s other lifetime member: drummer Han Bennink.

Yet an early April concert at in Buffalo, N.Y.’s Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, the last East Coast stop of the band’s 12-city American tour, was better balanced and more fulfilling than the norm. With the pianist unexpectedly up-front and expansive in his playing – at times bordering on ragtime and stride – the drummer, while still sporting his distinctive bandana headband, limited his burlesque shtick to a few towel swipes and an extended sequence where he advanced the rhythm by repeatedly tapping one drum stick on another lodged firmly within his mouth.

Instead the focus of this 40th Anniversary tour performance shifted to other band members, many of whom have been in the ICP for at least a decade. Additionally, although most of the non-improvised material was compositions by Mengelberg, with echoes of – and some direct quotes from – Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington, once the solos revved up, other jazz styles hovered into view.

Michael Moore for instance, capped the theme variations on one Ducal-styled tune he shared alongside the muted trumpet of Thomas Heberer, with a beautifully modulated obbligato in full, creamy Johnny Hodges mode, as Bennink sensitively accompanied him with brushes. When she wasn’t creating unfussy cadences, violinist Mary Oliver combined the stance and animation of Nicolò Paganini and Ray Nance in her solos, with horsehair flying from the bow as staccato lines splintered.

Tenor saxophonist Tobias Delius, intentionally or not essayed the dual nature of Lester (Prez) Young’s approach to the axe. Late in the evening, for example, he honked away à la late-career Prez, while standing beside the bass-drum-whopping Bennink. Earlier on however, with his horn angled nearly horizontally away from his body, he referenced an earlier, low-key Young, as Moore and Ab Baars riffed dual clarinet timbres beside him and Bennink patted his kit like Jo Jones.

Dissonant, but circumspect on clarinet, Baars sparked the band’s brassy and sassy encore with growling, panting tenor saxophone overblowing. These split tones were so energetic that the pianist, drummer and well-paced bassist Ernst Glerum fused into an accompanying pulse reminiscent of Count Basie’s most accomplished rhythm section – if that section had been spelled by Oliver and cellist Tristan Honsinger playing sul ponticello and sul tasto.

Disappointingly, trombonist Wolter Wierbos unveiled very little of his avant-gutbucket style, saving most of his plunger-muted braying for when he and the other horns combined for call-and-response vamps with the string and horn sections.

Yet he provided some of the non-musical theatricality, as he wandered the stage filming soloists with a video camera; Heberer did the same with a still camera. Honsinger, who has been known to vocalize along with the band, was also quiet that evening. But his pork-pie hat and red lumber jacket together were as loud as some of his slashing arco passages.

While he deigned conducting to a few arm waves and the odd comment to Bennink, among Monk-like comping from the piano bench, Mengelberg sometimes elaborated silent movie comic-like movements. Bent over the keys, he still managed to sip coffee from a paper cup from time-to-time. As well, there were a couple of instances which seemed to demand him unfurling a wad of tissues from his pocket, painstakingly selecting one for nose-wiping, before returning to playing.

Light on the play acting, heavy on the music, the ICP put on a memorable show.

— Ken Waxman