Concert Review: ICP in Belfast, N. Ireland by Ian Patterson, All About Jazz (2017)

Instant Composers Pool
Belfast, N. Ireland
November 3, 2017 

It's a significant year for Instant Composers Pool, for 2017 marks the Dutch jazz collective's fiftieth anniversary. Sadly, the year also saw the passing of Misha Mengelberg, pianist, composer and co-founder of the IPC along with Willem Breuker and Han Bennink. That left Bennink as the sole-surviving charter member, an inevitable sort of evolution with any collective of long-standing. The doors revolve and the personalities come and go. Much like life itself. 

ICP's Belfast gig—a Moving On Music production—was one of several in Ireland, attracting a sizeable crowd to the MAC's upstairs theatre. It was the crowning jewel in Moving On Music's annual four-day Tempered festival, a celebration of the adventurous—and fairly unclassifiable—in contemporary music. 

Despite the myriad personnel changes in the ICP over the years there's considerable continuity about this ICP dectet line-up, the bulk of whom have been together for twenty years. Such longevity breeds a very personal vocabulary and an intuitive interplay. The playfulness and the musical tensions evident during this concert were akin to a family dialog—harmonious on the closely orchestrated, full ensemble passages, edgily abrasive on the looser improvisational, micro-ensemble streams. 

You could see the bonds too, simply in the ensemble's physicality. For the opening number, the carnivalesque "Flute," driven by Bennink's sunny martial groove, the musicians fanned around the centrally placed drummer. As the concert went on, however, players exited and re-entered the scene, roaming around the stage as though in the family living room. The theatrical flow, as much as the bursts of antic theatricality—cellist Tristan Honsinger's Monty Python-esque conducting, or Bennink planting his left leg on the snare drum as he worked the kit, were all part of the ICP experience. 

On the Frank Zappa-esque tango "Soft as Butter" riffing strings courtesy of Hosinger's cello, Ernst Glerum's bowed bass and Mary Oliver's violin ploughed a steady course as trombonist Wolter Wierbos, trumpeter Thomas Heberer, Michael Moore and Ab Baars—the duo switching between saxophones and clarinets—oscillated between woozy alegria and introspective abstraction. 

For all the ICP's associations with the European jazz avant-garde much of its music was strongly infused with North American tradition. The sumptuous horns and brushes-driven swing of "Gare Guillemin" evoked the heyday of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. More overt tribute to Ellington came with his 1946 train song "Happy Go Lucky Local," this soaring Mengelberg arrangement capturing the industrial dissonances and mechanical rhythms of the original—screaming whistle, churning pistons et al—with collective panache. A soulful reading of Herbie Nichols' "Change of Season," featuring a mesmerizing high-wire improvisation from Oliver, and Hoagy Carmichael's "Baltimore Oriole," with Wierbos' gruffly bluesy trombone central, both paid tribute to jazz' North American roots. 

Three Mengelberg vignettes, "Mealworm," "Garden Fence" and "Smelling Salts" were sewn together like a mini-suite, rhythm section sitting out as horns carved an impressionistic path—agitated buzzing, staccato bursts, overlapping glissandi and muted growls. Abrupt shifts in tempi characterized "Yabam Yaboom," an idiosyncratic number evocative of Sun Ra, with one foot in Dixieland revelry and the other in free-jazz cacophony; an animated Bennink—alternating between brushes, mallets and shakers—was at the epicentre of an extended ensemble passage that glided from seemingly loose, though never less than intense abstraction, to passionate swing. 

The ICP left the stage to warm applause, re-emerging shortly afterwards, with Bennink leading a moving, hummed rendition of what sounded like "Abide With Me"—dedicated to Misha Mengelberg. A second encore shattered the spell, the ICP, sans Bennink, cranking up the decibels on the hard-riffing "Beady Eyes," with pianist Guus Janssen, hitherto a subtle accompanist, unleashing torrents of notes. Bennink duly entered wielding a floor brush, which he spun and clattered rhythmically, knocking a chair to the floor with percussive zeal before taking up his drum stool once again.

Concert Review: ICP in London, by John Fordham, The Guardian (2017).

Instant Composer's Pool
@The Vortex

he mostly uncategorisable but approximately jazz-angled Dutch collective ICP (it stands for Instant Composers Pool) celebrate their 50th anniversary this year and the 75th birthday of their wonderful drummer Han Bennink. Less auspiciously, this year also saw the death of their presiding guru, the pianist and composer Misha Mengelberg. Yet the group still genre-hop with the insouciant agility of youth, as a 10-piece ICP proved with a vivacious set at Dalston’s Vortex Jazz Club.

Opening in typical style, they began on a lurching clamour of indignant-sounding reeds and brass squirts roughly resolving in stagily spooky Frankenstein chords. In came Mary Oliver’s violin drone and Bennink’s gathering drums, which shuffled into a folksy swing groove occasionally sniped at by trombone blasts. An agile free-jazz overture by trombonist Wolter Wierbos was accompanied by contrastingly impassive formality from Guus Janssen on piano, while jazzy walking-bass from Ernst Glerum strolled alongside slithery strings lines from Oliver and cellist Tristan Honsinger, and zestfully brittle violin improv ducked and weaved through sidling sax hooks.

A jaunty clarinet theme became a simmering tango jolted by Bennink’s hustling accents, and a dedication to German piano legend Alex von Schlippenbach fused a strutting march, a Bennink break of clattering hipness, as well as dissonant but ecstatically swelling long-tone harmonies from the reeds and Thomas Heberer’s trumpet, and eventually a coolly Ellingtonian orchestral glide.

ICP have always made their own rules, and hearing them followed, broken and reinvented in real time remains one of contemporary music’s enduring delights.

Concert Review: ICP in East Berlin by Kevin Whitehead, NJA Jazzbulletin (2010)

"Ah, but the band sounded magnificent. The meld of five idiosyncratic horns can be breathtaking, not least when they ease out of an improvisation by slowly converging on the first note of the next tune. (Thomas Heberer’s quarter-tone trumpet’s handy for that.) As a late arrival to the saxophones, Toby Delius doesn’t even have formal parts; he alights by ear. The three strings are less cohesive on the heads, but jell when they improvise; string trios plus one are staples of the impromptu subgroups. Violist Mary Oliver’s sleek new-music chops are offset by Honsinger’s Mengelbergian anarchism on cello. Tristan’s conducted improvisations are spontaneous music theater: funny pantomime blossoms into music. Glerum somehow anchors the strings and Mengelberg/Bennink rhythm section simultaneously. "

Read More