In the late ’60s, musicians in a few western European countries started developing their own improvised music styles, informed by jazz but branching off. The Dutch contingent were the jolliest, and included pianist Misha Mengelberg and drummer Han Bennink. They started the ICP Orchestra in the 1970s but it really took off in the ’80s, when most of the present 10-tet came together. Misha wrote most of the music, which could sound very jazzy or like crackpot Mozart, and also arranged pieces by his American faves, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols. Like Ellington, he saw the appeal of a band of individuals with varied backgrounds, and distinctive, contrasting styles as soloists. He also taught the musicians little games and strategies they could use to subvert his authority as bandleader.
ICP can sound like a miniature big band or a chamber group, as musicians move from rearranged Ellington into a raucous or quiet free improvisation and then a Mengelberg fanfare or a bit of spontaneous theater. It’s slippery music, walking a line between chaos and sublime lyricism, and they have the damnedest way of changing things up just before they wear out. It’s really quite amazing, and often very funny, and any fan of jazz now or new music or improvised performance would be crazy to miss them when they come to town. Philadelphia, this weekend, say."