critiques by DAN WARBURTON, Paris Editor
Misha Mengelberg & Han Bennink
It was only available in a limited edition, and now it's sold out, but it was an essential little package for any record-collecting improv enthusiast. The 64 page hardback book is a treasure trove of information. Kees Stevens' complete discography for the Instant Composers Pool presents (intelligently) the recordings in chronological order-from ICP 001, the "New Acoustic Swing Duo" of 1967 (Han Bennink, percussion, and Willem Breuker, reeds) up to and including last summer's "The Heron" (Tobias Delius) [ICP 033]-and includes various related ICP projects on other labels [FMP, Entr'acte]. Kevin Whitehead's accompanying essay provides a clear and affectionate history of the label, and if your Dutch is up to it, there are several assorted old press clippings and articles to pore over. The book also includes numerous photographs, not only of Bennink and Mengelberg on and off stage, but also of the front and back covers of all the released ICP albums, most of them splendid original designs by Bennink himself. If you can still track down a copy, don't hesitate. In the meantime, the CD "MiHa" is (I understand) still available separately.
Although the New Acoustic Swing Duo album was a Bennink/Breuker project, it was pianist and composer Misha Mengelberg who came up with the name "Instant Composers Pool," and over the years Mengelberg has remained the principal guiding force behind the organization. Breuker and Mengelberg, despite strong mutual respect for each other, never got along well enough to record together for ICP, and Breuker eventually split in 1973 to form the Willem Breuker Kollektief (though relations have remained cordial enough for BVHaast, founded by Breuker to promote and distribute his work, to handle the ICP catalogue). Over the years Mengelberg gradually assembled the ICP Orchestra (whose regular line-up includes Ab Baars, Michael Moore, Ernst Reijseger, and Wolter Wierbos, along with frequent guest musicians such as Steve Lacy and George Lewis), all the while continuing his duo concerts with Han Bennink. ICP 031 is the latest chapter in the Mengelberg/Bennink saga, consisting of two live performances from 1992 (Leeuwarden) and 1997 (Amsterdam's Bimhuis).
Rarely have we seen such intense and long-lasting musical partnerships as Misha and Han; together they played with the legendary Eric Dolphy on the "Last Date" album in 1964-by which time they'd already been working together for three years-and though Bennink gigged with anybody he could in the sixties, from Sonny Rollins to Marion Brown, while Mengelberg was "as happy to think about music as play it," they have continued to play and record together both as a duo and as the heart of the ICP Orchestra rhythm section ever since. Quite apart from the extraordinary music they make, their appearance and antics onstage are unforgettable. Bennink, absurdly athletic and dangerously healthy-looking-with his close-cropped hair and khaki shorts he resembles the kind of demented scout leader who would lead unruly teenagers through a minefield-regularly breaks several pairs of sticks per concert through sheer exuberance, and has been known to play anything (he attacks walls, potted plants, empty glasses at the bar, and even once attempted to saw the stage in half). In total contrast, Mengelberg, eternally chain-smoking and slightly hunch-backed-tending to look far older than his sixty-three years-huddles over the piano stool at a rakish angle, plunking away as if he had never seen the instrument in his life (although he knows damn well what he's doing). The humorous element is not just visual though, but deeply rooted in the musical interplay between the two musicians; to quote Eugene Chadbourne:
It's a real gift to be able to create comedy. Han Bennink is a genius. One of my favorite things is that something very serious and very funny is going on at the same time. It totally confuses the audience-they don't know if you're trying to be funny or serious, when in fact you're both.
This CD is a fine example of that-there are moments of high comedy, aggression, repose, and, yes, boredom.. for where does it say that everything you do has to be stupendously thrilling? Since when was life like that? Says Mengelberg; "I like puzzles in an open form, like chess or a game of bridge. Something with a development that can lead to something... or not! In an open chess game there can be attacks that are to no avail, events that are going wrong but the opponent makes a mistake, or somebody makes a brilliant move but falters and is mated in two. So no little tricks.. No first, second theme. No development section, no reprise. There are no simple calculations for life."
Here's to the next thirty years.
[ICP 031: originally sold with limited edition book "The Instant Composers Pool: Thirty Years." Distribution: BVHaast, Prinseneiland 99, 1013 LN Amsterdam]