ICP Orchestra, Vortex Jazz Club, London

The ICP Orchestra is a rumbustious free-jazz Dutch ensemble that was jointly founded in 1967 by drummer Hans Bennink and pianist Misha Mengelberg – the acronym stands for the Instant Composers Pool.

This gig was the climax of a five-day Vortex residency presented under the “Evan Parker Might I Suggest” banner. Earlier gigs had fragmented the 10-piece ensemble into chamber-sized grouplets with local free-jazzers as guests. But tonight’s packed-out, party-atmosphere performance presented the full ensemble cavorting through a trademark mix of free and classic jazz, classical modernism and left-field cabaret. Rough-at-the edges and anarchic, they veered from sublime readings of Ellington and Monk to raucous rabble-rousing and tongue-in-cheek mischief.

Both sets started with a flutter and morphed into swing – precise and sedate in the first; zippy and jazz age in the second. But the ICP never stayed put: ballroom comfort yielded to squeak-and-squawk sax and jazz-age two-step eased to a slow-drag moan.

Throughout both sets, the orchestra switched styles on the flimsiest cues – the upward sweep of a repeated riff, a thump or rattle from the drums or a simple “one-two” command. There were bleak and jagged strings and the whole band going full pelt, village marches and boppish riffs, and heaps of uplifting rhythm. The whole of “No Idea” seemed based on the art of tuning, and for quite a chunk “Picnic” sounded like a village band at the tail end of a long-lasting revel.

But deliberate rough edges demand technical expertise, and orthodox skills shone through on velvet-smooth brass, cross-rhythm riffs and Monk’s “Criss Cross”. On drums, Bennink curbed his more destructive inclinations with a disciplined show of rhythmic strength and orchestral skill, his low-tuned, loose-skinned sound perfectly matching Ernst Glerum’s thumping, woody bass. Mary Oliver’s violin lilted, quarter-toned trumpeter Thomas Heberer was sleek and spiky, and trombonist Wolter Wierbos, with his all-style box of tricks, was a standout.

Curator Evan Parker demanded an encore of “Caravan” and “The Mooche”. The orchestra delivered both, dark urgent brass riding over jagged Ellingtonian piano – Steve Beresford a guest – with a double helping of roof-raising cacophony plonked in the middle.


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