Misha Mengelberg

Misha Mengelberg

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Recorded live at Bologna's Angelica Festival in May 1996, this disc presents an opportunity to appreciate Misha Mengelberg as both pianist (in two typical incarnations, an extended improvisation and one of his charmingly angular jazz compositions) and composer (the orchestral piece "Sulla Strada" and the saxophone concerto). "Viva Angelica" is one of Mengelberg's rambling half-hour solo improvisations (similar in length and format to the two released on Mix on his ICP label), in which the pianist investigates everything from Feldman-esque clusters to quasi-Baroque polyphony. Mengelberg is a bona fide professor of harmony and counterpoint in Amsterdam, and knows full well what he's doing, but takes impish delight in bending the rules of voice-leading, with quietly anarchic results. The closing ballad, whose title translates as "Romantic Leap of Hares," is Mengelberg at his most delightfully Monkish. "Sulla Strada," written back in 1973 and originally entitled "Onderweg" (all of Mengelberg's Dutch titles have here been translated into Italian), is a six-movement suite that nods affectionately at Satie, Stravinsky, and Nino Rota, but its additional unconventional percussion and fondness for getting stuck in a rut (Mengelberg might be the only composer and improviser who actively courts boredom) are positively Dadaistic. "Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra," dating from 1982, starts out in the same vein, alternating banal, directionless melody with Ligeti-like clusters until what can only be described as a loud farting noise ushers in the trumpets, which repeat their annoying little fanfare long enough for you to begin seriously questioning the composer's sanity. The third movement starts out like a Haydn slow movement, but you know things are going to go off the rails at some point (they do, when saxophonist Ed Boogaard suddenly becomes Anthony Braxton). There's even a cadenza, which ends up stuck on a single note for over two minutes (an exercise in Schoenbergian klangfarbenmelodie, or a nose thumbed at Giacinto Scelsi?), by which time the faux-classical point of departure has disappeared without a trace. The somewhat melancholy finale leaves more questions hanging in the air -- of a musical nature, of course; of Misha Mengelberg's originality and talent there can be no doubt.

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