All recordings, both major and minor, are artifacts, or mementos of a given time and place. Yet some stand out from the lot in the way they capture the spirit of an era and somehow define it. The reissue of this 1977 side by the ICP 10-TET is one such example, and for several reasons. Four decades later, the group is still around, with Han Bennink as its last charter member still standing since the passing of its pianist leader Misha Mengelberg in March 2017. Though its activities have curtailed somewhat, the group has, of last news, not disbanded. What is remarkable is its avoidance of surrendering to the past and morphing into a ghost band, content to rehash the music of its leader as if frozen in time. Mengelberg, of course, would never have wanted that and did everything in his lifetime to let his charges tamper with his tunes and extend the band's book by including their charts and sly covers of jazz greats like Monk, Nichols and Ellington.
With a long history behind it, it is welcome to see the group's first outing reissued, though not on its own ICP imprint but on the Corbett vs Dempsey label, spearheaded by John Corbett and Stuart Dempsey. Interestingly, the 10-TET debut occurred a full decade after the birth of the Instant Composer Pool, an artists' initiative established as a foundation by Mengelberg and his comrade iconoclasts Han Bennink and Willem Breuker. (The latter would go his own way in 1974 to form his Kollektief, also a tentet, that he would rule with an almost iron fist till his death nine years ago.) For the uninitiated, Kevin Whitehead's New Dutch Swing is the reference work on the subject, but anyone familiar with that scene has surely put his hands on it by now.
When considering the music captured in this historical release, it is steeped in the post-1960s European free jazz scene aesthetic, more specifically of a particularly Dutch take on it that made liberal use and abuse of composition. More than that, it laid down the very groundwork for all future editions of the group. For one, it is a gathering of strong personalities, some of whom were ready to reign in their egos to work for the cause, which was to bring about a wild and wooly ensemble music unlike anything else. Think of Peter Brötzmann, a firebrand if ever there was one, both then and now: he is given but a single solo spot in the eleven tracks of this 46-minute side, and let it rip, true to form. Another, cellist Tristan Honsinger, had been in Amsterdam for only three years at the time, but his full throttle attacks on his most noble instrument earned him his way in. But here again, he has one opportunity to show his mettle. Bennink, always the live wire, is all over but never out of place, swinging as need be (on the opening track "Tetterettet V+VI") or chattering and clattering away merrily throughout — nor should we forget his unique contribution as designer of the record jacket, a life-long specialty of his. Michael Waisvisz, another American expat, was yet another patented sound iconoclast whose crackle boxes long pre-dated the burps and bleeps of today's digital live electronics. Last but not least is the leader himself, who is the most prominent soloist throughout, which is surprising in a way given his self-deprecating attitude towards his playing, going so far as to dismiss himself as a "terrible pianist". But that may well be par for the course for this enfant terrible. Rounding out the lineup were journeymen of the time, some who made a name for themselves (Alan Silva, bass, John Tchicai, alto sax), others falling by the wayside (Bert Koppelaar, trombone., Bennink's younger sibling Peter, alto sax, and Gilius van Bergeijk, alto sax and oboe.)
In sum, this album is the cornerstone on which the ICP 10-TET's total recorded output is built, and a most consistent one at that. In his lifetime, Mengelberg ensured that his unruly ways would prevail, so much so that his spirit still infuses the group since his passing (check out their latest side Restless in Pieces — a sly title if ever there were one.)
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