Album Review: East Of The Sun (2014) by Peter Margasak, DOWNBEAT


East of the Sun is the first album in a history dating back to 1967 that Amsterdam’s brilliant ICP Orchestra has made without its co-founding pianist and composer Misha Mengelberg, who was forced to retire from music due to progressive dementia. Mengelberg was the heart-and-soul of the ensemble; he can’t be replaced. Yet at the same time, the group has always experienced personnel change and taken advantage of new members and shifting dynamics. Sitting at the piano bench on East Of The Sun is Guus Janssen, an admirer of Mengelberg but a musician with his own voice, both as an improviser and a composer—he wrote the wildly careening “Rondo,” an intensely shape-shifting jaunt that swings jubilantly between circus-like chaos and storming early jazz swing. Mengelberg’s long-time musical partner Han Bennink chose the repertoire for the album, including a number of themes by his old pal such as the brief opening hymn-like chant called “Psalm,” the previously unrecorded “Oorwurm” (Dutch for earwig), a martial ditty that lives up to its title, and “Der Jofelen Pels Slip.” But he also brings in pieces by some of the other excellent composers in the group including Ab Baars, Tristan Honsinger (showing off his typical whimsy on “Bolly Wolly,” which teeters on the edge of insanity) and Michael Moore, as well as fellow travelers like Maurice Horsthius and the late Sean Bergin, who wrote the Italianate swinger “Lavoro,” which plows straight into an ebullient version of “Moten Swing.” The album concludes with a raucous reading of the standard that gives the album its name. There may not be any new tactics or tacks on display on East Of The Sun, but the fact that ICP seems to be weathering the loss of its leader in such elegant, electric fashion is more than we need.

Album Review: East Of The Sun (2014) by Hugo Truyens


Usually they just edit a live performance and slam it on cd, this time they gathered in the studio.  One conspicuously absent.  In person that is, the spirit of Misha Mengelberg infuses this record in the choice of cuts, and of course in the performance.  They start with a Psalm, somewhat reminiscent of the way the voices always lag behind the organ in a Dutch reformed church, and of course on a wider view very true to the inimitable ICP credo: lag, bend and loiter.  On many an occasion I witnessed them performing this snippet as a final encore, tongue firmly in cheek.  It was called “Onbestemd Geneurie” then which can be translated as “Vague Humming” thereby missing the small pun of untuned that lies hidden within.  It kind of summarizes much of the ICP attitude. When watches are synchronized we’re ready for the next two pieces : “Bleekgezicht” gives you a stately, plump march, “Oorwurm” is as the title promises a deceptively simple tune that is delivered in a rising and falling curve, and won’t leave you nevermore. An earwig. I would call these the prelude.  We’re ready now for the main course.

And boy, do they deliver. They render the Mengelberg pieces and add some of their own, Baars, Moore and Honsinger showcasing their deft hand and slanted angles.  Mengelberg once said to the public after one of their sprawling pieces had come to a thunderous climax to collapse again into an untidy heap: Nice little band, they are not. I’m not going to give you a blow by blow description of the many wonders awaiting you when you listen to this record.  Only a broad overview as an ardent fan.  The ICP Orchestra is easily, hands down, far out our most far flung band this side of the Milky Way.  Because they are the rulers of controlled freedom, wanted spontaneity, instant composing.

They flow easily, leisurely flow over ripples, boulders are met headlong, spirits high.  They weave and warp, dripping chords, clashing clouds.  They punctuate and part the sound of sounds they sound.  And sounds dissolve in smaller sounds and grieve and weigh and yield and soar and moan and coalesce and dissolve.  They throw Duke Ellington at Count Basie and reassemble the pieces eagerly or not at all, it all depends. Tradition is what they feed on, they examine it, finding it curious and curiouser, until they unwind themselves in unchartered territory again and boldly proceed. Google the Jeff Wall photograph “A sudden gust of wind”  and you’re looking at that same irreverent respect.

There’s a new piano player in the band, Guus Janssen, and he lays back, being very much there all the same, adding another paradox to the already abundant supply these gentlemen have in their fingertips. The record ends with Brooks Bowman’s “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” epitomizing their way: start with the dungheap and watch the orchid unfurl, fling it out there through the motions, end it with a bang.  The music stops, follow the sound.  Malpreciza zumadon.

Misha can sit back contentedly and enjoy his ice cream. He made this band into the verb they are.

Five stars to them just for existing.  And for keeping the music of Sean Bergin alive, in a brilliant mashup of Lavoro with Moten Swing.  Listen.