On Misha Mengelberg – The Wire, July 2017

Published in July 2015. In print, though you can order from The Wire’s website.

From the piece:

The whole event was typically eclectic, so it was hard not to consider Mengelberg: a musician that added a wryness to whatever he touched — as it moved from free jazz to swing; from cacophony to melody — and yet had a sincere, sweet humour to all that he wrote so that often when I hear it, it genuinely makes me laugh. If you need a pick-me-up, try the 2003 Bimhuis performance of Mengelberg’s ‘De Sprong, O Romantiek der Hazen’, recorded for the album Aan & Uit, which combines a soft and almost saccharine jazz with semi-in tune and hilarious, nonsensical vocal ramblings.  

That recording might best encapsulate Mengelberg’s relationship with the ‘serious’ and the ‘light’ side of music. Because, while he made such recordings, Mengelberg was also responsible for some of the Netherlands’ most important musical institutions: he helped create the Bimhuis itself, and the ICP; worked as a director for many years of STEIM (the Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music); and campaigned over many years to improve levels of funding to the arts. It’s not a coincidence that my interest in Mengelberg and the ICP came some years after a performance of John Cage at a festival in Amsterdam’s Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, the building to which the Bimhuis is joined and in which I first discovered that experimental music could make me laugh out loud — that, indeed, it was at its best when it did so.

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