May 7, 2015

Nemu Records 014

With Dutch pianist, composer and ICP Orchestra founder Misha Mengelberg now sidelined with advanced Alzheimer’s and unable to perform, new example of his work become more precious. This nearly 80 minute) 2011 ad-hoc session from Cologne with his contemporary –tenor saxophonist Gerd Dudek – plus a band of younger players – trumpeter Ryan Carniaux, guitarist Dirk Bell, bassist Jocha Oetz and drummer Nils Tegen – takes on added resonance. Yet until the sextet loosens up enough to slide into freer territory, the disc is more Misha-lite than expected.

With the first seven tracks give over to the group composition, “Eleven Steps to Heaven”, connections to Miles Davis-influenced freebop are clear. Dudek for one, whose Trane influences are expressed with slurry roughness in the penultimate sequence, spends time earlier joining Bell’s fleet modulations in counterpoint that resembles Stan Getz-Jimmy Raney more than Peter Brötzmann-Sonny Sharrock. Carniaux’s fine-boned “Part 3” solo and playing elsewhere is likewise firmly in the modern mainstream, advancing call-and-response choruses with a straining Dudek. Add to this Tegen clatter-click drumming and the effect is that of an updated Jazz Messengers at a relaxed jam session. Bell’s flowing lines, as when he solos lucidly on “Part 5” add to this pre-free impression, while master of understatement Mengelberg, chameleon-like mostly sticks to comping. Only Oetz, who has recorded cutting-edge solo bass CDs, puts aside boppy thumping to unveil a bowed multi-string solo on “Part 7”. Abrasively nearly scuffing the finish off his strings spurs Tegen to arrhythmic pops and moves the tune into the 21st Century.

Wit the band now apparently more comfortable in each other’s company, the 35-minute, two-part “Zok!” which concludes the disc, is closer to Mengelberg’s usual milieu. Starting off with a shaking Monk-like piano dissertation, he and the guitarist, now employing a harsher tone, negotiate tempo shifts which in turn bring out blunt line variations from the tenor saxophonist. By the time “Zok! Part 2” rolls forward, the pianist is mixing stride references with Monkish key splatters, Carniaux is blaring staccato crackles alongside fiery sax blares and Tegen doubles the intensity of his initial playing with craggy rumbles. As the horns bringing a touch of the blues to the climax, jazz connections plus sly timbral extensions from the pianist combine for a sleekly satisfying ending. Featuring a different side of Mengelberg’s whimsical quirkiness, the CD, while unusual, still celebrates his skills.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Eleven Steps to Heaven Part 1 2. Eleven Steps to Heaven Part 2 3. Eleven Steps to Heaven Part 4. Eleven Steps to Heaven Part 4 5. Eleven Steps to Heaven Part 5 6. Eleven Steps to Heaven Part 6 7. Eleven Steps to Heaven Part 7 8. Zok! Part 1 9. Zok! Part 2

Personnel: Ryan Carniaux (trumpet); Gerd Dudek (tenor saxophone); Misha Mengelberg (piano); Dirk Bell (guitar); Joscha Oetz (bass) and Nils Tegen (drums)

–for The New York City Jazz Record