This CD is a reissue of two previously released LPs by ICP, called, respectively, Program One: ICP Plays the Music of Herbie Nichols and Program Two: ICP Plays Monk. To deal with both of these programs on one CD is overwhelming. Pianist Misha Mengelberg's arrangements for both sets are truly ingenious in that he works with each composer's harmonic systems -- which were completely out of step with the jazz mainstream at the time -- and inverts their obvious accents, bringing their hidden nuances to the fore while trying to retain as much of the original melodies as possible. The Nichols program, recorded in 1984, features an expatriate American Nichols aficionado on soprano in Steve Lacy -- with the usual suspects like Han Bennink on drums, Wolter Wierbos on trombone, Michael Moore and Sean Bergin on alto, and Ernst Reijseger on cello, among others. Their run through "2300 Skidoo," with its extended intervals and broken eights in the middle, is outrageously inventive, as is their reading of "Houseparty Starting," with its stomping tempo and angular solos by Lacy and Wierbos. The Monk program, recorded two years later in 1986, features Ab Baars on soprano and tenor as well as clarinet and a guest appearance by George Lewis accompanying Wierbos in the trombone section. The CD stacks the Monk set on top, covering tracks one through seven. Beginning with the delightfully lopsided "Four in One," Mengelberg turns the harmony back on itself, allowing the melody to come right through the middle and Baars and Moore to punch through with accented fourths. On "Round Midnight," everything -- tempo, color, pitch, harmony -- about the tune changes except the basic melody, but Mengelberg knows how to ring the right solos from his players as he keeps chunking out the melody in three or four shades of blues and Bennink crackles through with brushed accents and rim shots. Lines from Piazzolla's tangos are inserted in Mengelberg's solo and the band shifts rhythmically to angle them in. Awesome. These two recordings of the ICP Orchestra have stood up marvelously over the years; they sound even more relevant in the 21st century than they did in the 20th. And to have both recordings in a single package is a gift to be treasured.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek