Misha Mengelberg Quartet
Four in OneSGL SA1535-5
“Improvisation was almost extinct in western art music before jazz brought it back. Misha Mengelberg’s work reminds us that the improvisational impulse jazz unleashed takes many forms, some far from obvious. His stuff offers yet more evidence that African-American music changed nearly everyone’s sound in the 20th century. Think of it. Even Dutch composers play the blues.”
—Kevin Whitehead, Fresh Air (NPR)
“Mengelberg’s music inhabits a room full of doors, each one opening into a different warped musical space. Things really become interesting when he opens several at a time…There’s a freedom in this music that apparently aspires to no grand scheme or design other than to be happily, merrily free!”
—Matt Krieg, Jazz Views (Australia)
When Dutch pianist, composer and humorist Misha Mengelberg, one of the heroes of the “new Dutch swing,” got together with Dave Douglas for a couple of duo gigs, they enjoyed it so much they decided to expand things to a quartet with New York bassist Brad Jones (who performs regularly with Dave and is on Misha’s Avant CD Who’s Bridge) and Misha’s longtime colleague Han Bennink on drums. (Dave has also performed with Han as a duo, documented on Serpentine). Working with a book of Mengelberg originals and Monk tunes, they played a week at NY’s Iridium and then went into Avatar with engineer Joe Ferla (Dave producing) to record live to DSD. The resulting hybrid SACD is thrillingly convincing when played back as an SACD and still vibrant sounding as a CD, preserving the wit and drive and cohesiveness of four improvisers at the top of their collective game. Misha’s tunes run the gamut from boppish scorchers to ballads, raucous, sardonic ditties to blues to a South African kwela, and in this context the Monk tunes underline Misha’s particular affinity for his music.
The godfather of Dutch improvised music, Misha Menbelberg was involved in the absurd-art movement Fluxus in the 60s, debuted on record in ’64 on Dolphy’s Last Date, and founded the Instant Composer’s Pool with Han Bennink and Willem Breuker in 1967. During the 70s he began leading the ICP Orchestra (which continues to be a forum for his interests in the classic jazz repertore, composition, improvisation, conducted improvisation, and music theater), and was artistic director of the electronic music workshop STEIM. He has composed various pieces for piano, wind ensemble, electro-acoustic ensemble, orchestra, and voice, and teaches counterpoint at the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam. His records are on Soul Note, Avant, DIW, hatOLOGY, ICP, and other labels.
“…Mengelberg has, since the early 1960s, probably more than anyone else created what we think of as modern Dutch jazz…With a dash of experimental classical, a splash of American post bop and a lowlands infusion of comedic anarchy, he’s produced a hybrid Frankenstein monster that’s distinctive without scaring the pants off anyone…One of the clues to Mengelberg’s power is that he never takes anything — especially himself — too seriously. You can hear this in different sections of some tunes where his writing — and playing — can transform what sounds like a beginners’ piano exercise, a POMO polka, or a nursery rhyme into pulsating serious sounds. Another is his innate sense of disorderliness, which probably accounts for his 40-year plus partnership with Bennink, who has rarely seen a session he couldn’t disrupt…Freed from the responsibility of leadership, Douglas appears to be having time of his life…Joining the eight Mengelberg originals here are three Monk standards given the appropriate irreverent treatment…Mengelberg’s two-handed approach often out-Monks Monk…the Dutchman can slip in and out of tune and tempo so subtly that not one scintilla of the theme is lost. No one CD can ever be seen as being definitive, nor can exceptional Dutch jazz be illustrated in a single session of slightly more than 59 minutes. But Four in One gets awfully darn close.” — Ken Waxman, Jazzweekly.com
“A dozen years ago, Lester Bowie recorded an album called Serious Fun, which might serve well for this disc, too, though Misha Mengelberg & Co. drink more deeply from both parts of the title. Mengelberg is a Dutch pianist-composer whose style has roots in Monk, Mingus, Herbie Nichols, and the myriad streams of jazz and classical avant-garde – which is to say, his music is playfully witty, sometimes madcap, but more tightly structured than you might at first think…Douglas first joined forces with Mengelberg a few years ago, when he and his piano-less quartet learned a bunch of Mengelberg compositions (no easy task) and then asked the Dutchman himself to sit in with them at a live gig. On this disc, Douglas brings along the agile bass player from that date, Brad Jones. The result is a fresh blast of crazyquilt blues, ballads, circus tunes, and other bits beyond category, all of which swing like the proverbial demon. The three non-Mengelberg tunes, by the way, are Monk standards, which Mengelberg hurls in a funhouse where the mirrors elongate or compress the angles without ever rounding them off or — more amazing — losing Monk’s spirit. More wondrous still, if such were possible, is the sound…This ranks as one of the best digital jazz recordings ever – brash, airy, vivid, seamlessly spacious, with a black-curtain quiet backdrop…Joe Ferla is, once more, the man at the control board, again with tube mics, except for a ribbon mic on the trumpet and a couple dynamic spot mics on the tom-toms (a stereo tube mic over the trapset, though). He recorded live-to-2-track digital on Sony’s much-acclaimed DSD machine, which impressed Ferla greatly. Even so, he mixed it in analog on an old Neve console.” — Fred Kaplan, The Absolute Sound
“Dave Douglas’s muted, skittering phrases throughout this lively session contain some of his best work since Tiny Bell. His light-fingered trumpet tears through the first track, a ‘Freedom Jazz Dance’ meets ‘Hot House’ pastiche. Mengelberg’s piano responds in kind, and plies Monkian wit on a Monk triptych.” — Gary Giddins, Village Voice (Best Jazz CDs of 2002)
“A pianist raised on Thelonious Monk’s playfully clunky attack, Mengelberg writes tunes that (like Monk’s or Herbie Nichols’) keep making weird left turns where you might expect them to go straight ahead. Douglas, a voracious listener, learned a batch of Mengelberg’s tunes off old records. In 2000, Douglas, Mengelberg, and Mengelberg’s preferred New York bassist Brad Jones recorded Four in One: seven tunes by Mengelberg, three by Monk and a ditty that Mengelberg’s daughter Andrea composed when she was a precocious tot, in anticipation of a restaurant trip: ‘We’re Going out for Italian.’ Douglas’ bell-like tone is the golden striker on Mengelberg’s plaintive, Euro-mantic ‘Reef.’ On the uptempo material, it’s a joy to hear him interact with and respond to the unpigeonholeable pianist who’s chasing mice up the keys one second, unspooling a lean legato line the next, or dropping depth charges on the keys. Misha stretches time like taffy, elongating the beat so that even savvy musicians he’s playing with may lose their own place — but Douglas holds fast, eager to play his rhythmic games. The beauty of it all is the creative cross-fertilization: Mengelberg’s skewed perspective and absurdist bent offer Dave Douglas something he may not get at home in New York. And Mengelberg’s odd twists likely inform Douglas’s own compositional ideas (even if they leave no obvious fingerprints).” — Kevin Whitehead, emusic.com
Music **** 1/2, SACD **** 1/2 “The relative obscurity of veteran Dutch pianist Mengelberg says something about the jingoism of American jazz fans and critics. Although his originality is apparent in every note, no other pianist captures as much of Thelonious Monk’s pinging rhythm and rhyme — perhaps because Mengelberg is guided by the same sort of thorny individuality. There are three Monk tunes on the terrific Four in One…Everything here is irresistible…The album benefits from Joe Ferla’s attentive engineering.” — Francis Davis, Sound & Vision
Musical Performance ***, Recording Quality *****, Overall Enjoyment **** “This live-to-stereo-DSD recording is what we audiophiles want all SACDs to sound like. The musicians…are sonically portrayed with great vividness and a complete lack of electronic haze. Douglas’ trumpet has the perfect amount of bite, and the piano wafts through the soundstage with supreme clarity. You’ll need to goose the volume more than usual, but this will help you admire the wide dynamic range of this SACD all the more. The music is inventive and inspired, all of it composed by leader Mengelberg or Thelonious Monk, not the sleep-making jazz found on all too many audiophile recordings. This is one of the very best-sounding SACDs you can buy, which makes it one of the best-sounding recordings, period.” — Marc Mickelson, SoundStage!
“The SACD layer of this recording just adds more precision to what is already present on the CD layer. There is a far greater depth to the already impressive music which allows you to not only hear the attack, but the decay as each note is played as well. This in turn allows the music to be far more expressive in its presentation. For example, on track five, ‘Four In One,’ the entire quartet comes together in an involving presentation, which brings the listener closer to the music than one might think possible.” — Brett Rudolph, MusicTAP.net
“…packed with incident and invention…” — Jazz Review
“…an improv-affirming, life-affirming release.” — The Wire