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Misha and more

November 10, 2017
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Such a feast of live music at the moment. I am indulging, in anticipation of thinner times in December and January, and it’s already been a memorable musical week. Off to the London Jazz Festival shortly for some reviewing (Pat Metheny, Schaerer/Wollny/Parisien/Peirani and Mark Guiliana since you ask – the reviews will follow on So no time to write much about other things, but a few notes about the earlier part of the week to help fix some things in the memory.

Memory very much on everyone’s mind in Bath on Monday, when the fab ICP Orchestra‘s set was preceded by a screening of Misha enzovoort, the affecting documentary about their main man Misha Mengelberg’s last overseas performance with the ensemble at the Vortex in 2013. Mengelberg – who died earlier this year – was dealing with dementia, but nevertheless managed to play piano with the band for the final two nights of their London residency. The film, follows their week in London, and the tender care and attention this special community afforded their co-founder (“he’s the soul of the ICP,” as they said), and the actual performance footage – playing piano, vocalising and whistling – are intensely moving. If you have had dementia in the family, it’s not an easy hour, but I’m glad to have seen it. There are some lovely moments, especially fragments of lucid conversation from Mengelberg (Item: “John Cage seemed a friendly boy, but I experienced his music as quite hostile”), and a scene where he addresses a piano with a metal walking stick, held up lengthwise, which somehow seems to engage the correct notes at each end.

You can find the whole thing on the net – I suspect the English subtitled version of the Dutch film we saw on Monday works best, but the Dutch version is here on Vimeo.

There’s also an English version on youtube with a rather annoying American voiceover, which seems to be 40 minutes longer – no idea why.

It would be strange to pair the film with a performance each night. Han Bennink, watching at the back of the room was red-eyed and almost lost for words at the end. He recalls in the film that he first played with Mengelberg in 1959. But the multi-media bill did give the evening a special quality. The live set that followed showed that the ICP show really does go on. We heard Misha arrangements of Ellington (Perdido), Monk (Round Midnight, Four in One), Greig (I think), and Herbie Nichols (2300 Skiddoo), a quirky number by cellist Tristan Honsinger and a wonderful Kwela-inspired piece by the late, great Sean Bergin. I’d have loved to hear more of that, with Han Bennink’s  cymbal beat rivalling Louis Moholo’s whiplash, but it was a great way to finish a fine evening. The Widcombe Social club in Bath, newly built, is a super venue, too, so worth looking out for Nod Knowles’ future promotions there.

A breather on Tuesday before an intense evening in the packed basement room of Cafe Kino in Stokes Croft. This was a double bill starting with a trio edition of trombonist Raph Clarkson’s Dissolute Society. They play spoken word pieces with jazz accompaniment, and the result is pretty effective, though the expanded ensemble on their recording puts Clarkson’s always heartfelt texts into a context that perhaps balances them better with the music.

Then a second live outing  (I think) for trumpeter Nick Malcolm’s new quartet Jade. This is an all star ensemble, with Jake McMurchie on sax, Ric Yarborough on drums and judiciously deployed electronic percussion, and Will Harris on bass. The three people Nick name-checked after the opening, a freebop blues played over churning rhythm, (Skip James, Miles Davis, Wadada Leo Smith) give the flavour of the proceedings, though I was hearing something of Kenny Wheeler in the trumpet playing, and writing, as well. These are strong players producing arresting music. Definitely a band to watch in 2018.

Finally, an evening to savour, as so often, at St George‘s, where Andy Sheppard‘s international quartet were showcasing his new ECM recording. It’s a familiar mix now, big on dreamy themes, achingly slow tempos, washes of processed guitar, (Eivind Aarset), sonorous bass (Michel Benita), delicate percussion (Seb Rochford). But these are four masters of their art, playing as a wonderfully integrated unit, and the result is always absorbing, often beautiful. All four command attention, but Sheppard’s matchless control of tone and dynamics on sax, especially the tenor, remains the key ingredient. Reservations? It is all very nice. Andy has become the Art Farmer of the tenor, always in search of a more beautiful sound to flatter a wisp of melody. A brief episode of effects-heavy thrash on guitar and free percussion feels almost like an aberration in the second set. Still, you might not want to stay in this sound world indefinitely, but it’s a gorgeous place to visit.


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