REPORT: Might I Suggest Festival

Welcome a new guest writer! Darren Hayman attends the Might I Suggest festival at the Vortex Jazz Club, and sees moving performances from the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra and collaborators. Illustration by Darren Hayman

Might I Suggest is an annual five day festival curated by jazz/free improv ambassador and saxophonist Evan Parker. This year the focus was on the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra from the Netherlands.

The ICP is a ten piece ensemble that create an innovative bridge between completely free form music and scored composition. Seemingly chaotic abandonment is underpinned by sudden, snap tight horn sections. Pre-negotiated musical clusters are slipped underneath moments of sheer release. Leadership and direction of the band shifts naturally between members and the tiniest eye and hand movements send the group swerving left and right as though they were one.

It is never fully random nor controlled – the beauty lies teetering inbetween. You hear something wondrous, try to grasp it and it disappears only to be replaced by something better.

This sound is based on the ideas, strategies and compositions of Misha Mengelberg, who founded the ICP in 1967. It is both Misha’s absence and occasional fragile presence that defines this week of performances.

The first three nights of the festival at London’s Vortex are dedicated to pairing different sub groups of ICP members with the elite of Britain’s free improv scene. So we hear ICP’s Michael Moore (saxophone) and Thomas Heberer (quarter tone trumpet) swinging and sliding over the top of Alex Maguire’s fluid piano and Mark Sanders’ butterfly drums. We also get to hear the challenging, terrifying vocal improvisations of Phil Minton partnered by the bird-like clarinet trills of ICP’s Ab Baars.

All week the talk is about whether 77-year-old Misha Mengelberg will appear himself with the full ICP on Friday and Saturday night. The piano is always left free for him and Misha performs as and when he feels able to. When stage time comes, however Misha is playing before the rest of the musicians have picked up their instruments. They coalesce around him and he guides them into tremulous, beautiful beginnings.

We’ve all seen the supported, patronised elder statesmen in music. Witness for instance the confused Brian Wilson on stage hearing his piano and vocal parts being sung by adoring young musicians. Here, however Misha’s contribution is vital, not cosmetic.

At one point cellist Tristan Honsinger stands and indulges in random vocal outbursts. Misha stands up to join in and people rush towards him in case he falls.

Guttural scrapes and yelps subside into fluttering whistles. The horn section starts to purr chords underneath him and then Misha has the attention of every one in the room. A genius’s talent is laid bare. The purest musical thing I’ve seen in years is a beautiful old man whistling the sweetest made up tune.

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