REVIEW: ICP Orchestra at the Vortex

ICP Orchestra at the Vortex, December 2014
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved

ICP Orchestra
(Vortex, 20 December 2014; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

With an outfit billed as ‘legendary’ you usually know what you’re going to get, but with Amsterdam’s ICP Orchestra, happily, you never do. At the Vortex, a one night stand on their short European tour, the nine-piece band made sure there wasn’t the slightest hope of second-guessing them. With their lightning changes of style and pace, their leaps from tightly scored section work to free-wheeling improvisation, the nine band members routed razor-sharp messages back and forth, kept each other on the tips of their toes for two scintillating sets, and had a great deal of fun in the process.

Bassist Ernst Glerum, MC for the night, reflected on the difference between this visit and the historic five-night residency at the Vortex almost two years ago (reviewed HERE as part of Evan Parker’s Might I Suggest Festival)  when the co-founder of this pivotal Dutch co-operative, Misha Mengelberg, memorably made what would be his last touring appearances. ‘He stays at home, we play his music!’ Maintaining the link back to the ICP’s roots was the substantial presence of Han Bennink, his sidekick from the start back in the 60s, motoring in his inimitable, yet utterly focussed style from behind the drum kit.

Structured anarchy of the highest order was the name of the game. Romping through some of Mengelberg’s complex, unpredictable compositions, seriously putting themselves to the test, they exuded the wildly independent, yet disciplined spirit with which he imbued everything he put his mind to.

They dipped in to Mengelberg’s eight K Stukke, including an homage to Dudu Pukwana from his time in Amsterdam, Kwela P’kwana, in rich, Mingus mode. They stopped off at Liège’s Gare Guillemins, hit township rhythms, pausing to remember the early touring travels in vans with Johnny Dyani, Trevor Watts, Evan Parker and John Stevens, and evoked the Ellington brass section with Michael Moore on a breathtakingly evocative Johnny Hodges roll in their lush arrangement of Solitude – swiftly followed by Mengelberg’s irreverent dedication to Cecil Taylor, The Laughing Dwarf, with a roaring, jumping sax solo by Toby Delius.

The ICP’s latest compositions completed the mix, drawing on repertoire featured on their new CD, East of the Sun, which, incidentally, captures perfectly the subtle spirit of their live interactions.

The individual inputs and small groupings were matchless and magical. Violinist Mary Oliver, cellist Tristan Honsinger and Glerum briefly regrouped as an unconventional, near-classical string trio, and Oliver broke out to employ conduction techniques, with clarinets and saxes on instant response to her facial expressions and lively arm and finger signals. Ab Baars and Thomas Heberer shone with masterly assurance and trombonist Wolter Wierbos and drummer Bennink each briefly put the Vortex building’s structural column to good use, to wittily extend their range of instrumental timbres.

After a Weill-ish encore featuring Delius and Moore, both switching to clarinets, and Wierbos’s wacky, tangential trombone solo, the final words fell to a grinning Han Bennink – ‘Merry Christmas!’

Arguably the final major gig of the London year, and a contender for ‘best of’, the ICP Orchestra showed that they have not only kept its anarcho-improv swing spirit well and truly on track, they have built on it and given it an irrepressible and irresistible momentum on which Mengelberg would undoubtedly stamp his smiling, mischievous approval.

Michael Moore – clarinet, alto sax
Ab Baars – clarinet, tenor sax
Tobias Delius – clarinet, tenor sax
Wolter Wierbos – trombone
Thomas Heberer – cornet
Mary Oliver – violin, viola, vocals
Tristan Honsinger – cello, vocals
Ernst Glerum – bass, announcements
Han Bennink – drums, vocals

Categories: miscellaneous

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