Instant Composers Orchestra’s Joyful Noise at Christ Church Neighborhood House 4-3-2011.
When you’re talking about avant-garde jazz and free improvisation, joy is often left out of the mix. You get aggression, exuberance, chaos and hushed, meditative space, but rarely is there simple joy. That is, unless you attended one of the three nights that the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra played in Philadelphia. I saw the last show on Sunday, April 3 and wished I’d caught the previous two. A 10 piece ensemble, the ICPO is put together around pianist Misha Mengelberg and his time-twisted compositions, with a couple of Thelonious Monk tunes tossed in.
Put the names Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink in a group and you have some expectation of what to expect, although you still might not expect Bennink to come out, toss his drum chair around, then eventually grab it and sit next to a ruminating Mengelberg, whereupon he began playing a pizza box (large) with drums sticks and brushes, creating swing grooves and angular moves. Eventually the rest of the ensemble emerged and moved through a program that spun from atonal explorations to swinging ensemble arrangements, ecstatic solos to moments that almost had a Glenn Miller Orchestra feel.
The ensemble executed it all with pitch perfect intuition, with composed moments melting into improvisation, improvisation coalescing into composition. Through it all, there was showmanship aspect to the group, whether it was Bennink mugging at his drums, all the while keeping a rock solid pulse, or barrel chested trombonist Wolter Wierbos who looked like a circus roustabout, blowing plunger solos across the string trio. No doubt, the penchant for comic shtick and tuneful interludes comes from an original founding member, the late-Willem Breuker. Elements of the Willem Breuker Kollektief could be found all over ICPO. Michael Moore could be playing an overblown alto solo one moment, then segue into a New Orleans strut the next.
Sunday night was the last of a three night stand produced by the Ars Nova Workshop, the organization that has single-handedly made Philadelphia an out-jazz oasis. They played to a full house and after listening, you could understand why this little known group might be gaining a following outside of core avant-garde afficionados. There is a place where accessible jazz and freaked out improvisation can converge and it happens in the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra.
John Diliberto ((( echoes)))