Back in the 1970s it was an exquisite shock to hear musicians associated with Instant Composers Pool, the Amsterdam-based collective of free improvisers, playing a dance-band version of “Our Day Will Come”, the old Ruby and the Romantics hit, with no outward signs of irony. It was post-modern, in a way, but it wasn’t arch or condescending. It was just the way they saw things. And that was one of their contributions to the jazz of the last half-century.
Founded in 1967 by the pianist Misha Mengelberg, the saxophonist Willem Breuker and the drummer Han Bennink, ICP is still going strong, despite losing its state funding last year, and its members are still playing dance-band tunes, as you can hear in the clip above, where they perform “De Linkerschoen, de Rechterschoen”, a delightful tune by their bassist, Ernst Glerum, in best palais-glide style. It’s the first of two versions of the tune included in the latest album on their own label: Komen & Gaan by the ICP Septet + Joris Roelofs, Terrie Ex and Mara’s Pianola, which shows the ICP bunch to be as full of irreverent life as ever.
Recorded live at Le Brocope, a jazz and theatre café in Oldeberkoop, a village in Friesland, in north of the Netherlands, it represents an interesting response to the problems presented by the Covid-19 pandemic. To celebrate the venue’s 10th anniversary last October, the musicians were invited to spend a weekend there, eating and drinking and socialising and playing. I don’t know what the lockdown deal was in the Netherlands at the time, but the clip shows the congenial atmosphere they created.
I like this quote in the sleeve note by Mara Eijsbouts, the proprietor of Le Brocope: “As a painting chef, who also happens to be an interior designer, or a designing music lover who loves to cook, a mother of two beautiful daughters, and a historian who likes to write about matters that touch upon the future, entrepreneur, scatterbrain, and hostess in a house with walls that are made of musical energy, and as a jazz lover, I adhere to the adage of jazz: Just play what you like, as long as it fits.”
Throughout the album there are other fragments of the musical history in snatches of “The Sound of Music” and “Ain’t Misbehavin'”, thrown into the mix with the now familiar Dutch mixture of skill and irreverence. But there’s also a lot of free improvisation — sometimes unruly, sometimes exquisite — from the likes of Ab Baars on reeds and shakuhachi, Mary Oliver on violin and viola, Wolter Wierbos on trombone, the pianist Guus Janssen, Michael Moore on alto and clarinet, the great Bennink, the last survivor of the original founding trio, whose inimitable artwork is to be found on the album’s cover, and the two guests, the guitarist Terrie Ex and the bass clarinetist Joris Roelofs.
It’s hard to imagine a more gleefully anarchic piece of music being released in 2021 than the variations on Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor perpetrated on this album by Janssen and Ex. While Janssen fractures and reorganises Bach’s notes at a ridiculous speed, Ex strafes his efforts with skittering bottleneck noise before the two musicians accelerate together into a grandiose finale that includes a few seconds in which they sound as if they’re falling over each other’s feet. Ending with a pratfall thud, it’s a typical piece of ICP surrealism, being simultaneously funny and rather beautiful.
* Komen & Gaan is available, like other ICP albums and publications, from http://www.icporchestra.com