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.