ALBUM REVIEW: Pech Onderweg (2018) by Duck Baker, THE NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD.

There is no doubt that Misha Mengelberg was an excellent, even a great, jazz pianist. He was already close to that when he recorded with Eric Dolphy at the end of the latter’s career and he certainly was there by the mid ‘60s, when he was leading a quartet with alto saxophonist Piet Noordijk and drummer Han Bennink. But Mengelberg, like Bennink, was a musical maverick rarely content as a performer to play ‘just’ jazz and this is reflected on the solo record Pech Onderweg, recorded 40 years ago and recently reissued on vinyl. He mixes in elements of almost every piano style you can name: classical music, boogie-woogie, ragtime, schmaltzy pop music and occasional percussive banging and vocalizing that sounds drunken, if not deranged. The first of the “Pech Onderweg” pieces is a montage during which the pianist evokes many of the elements cited above, in stream-of-consciousness fashion (the title translates along the lines of “troubles coming on the road”). During “Pech Onderweg 2”, Mengelberg introduces passages of boogie-woogie that transmogrify into insistent banging discords repeated long enough to be nearly annoying, then in a flash he’s back playing the insistent boogie figures. This may sound like a merely clever device, but Mengelberg brings it off so well it succeeds in being much more. Listening to “Banana Suite”, which takes up much of Side B, one wonders whether Charles Ives would have sounded like Mengelberg had he been born 60 years later and been Dutch. Yes, Mengelberg is edgier, as was the world he lived in, but, like Ives, found many things he could revere, even as he lampooned a lot of them. We hear something a bit different on “Wie Jeuk Heeft, Als Moet Men” though; this is an early version of a song the ICP Orchestra would perform many times in later years, called, “De Sprong, O Romantiek der Hazen”, but the solo version involves a gentler approach, similar to that employed by Monk on pop songs like “There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie”. This is sentimentality that is wise to the world, evincing a vulnerability that’s the more open for not being naïve and it may be the high point of this rewarding recital.