FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004

FMP CD 107

Bert Noglik


The point of departure: one of the longest standing and, at the same time, most unpredictable duos of European improvised music, the inimitable Dutch "couple", Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink meets Peter Brötzmann, protagonist of German Free Jazz, for a co-operative musical adventure. Brötzmann and Bennink can already refer back to collaborative duo stories, documented on the FMP recordings "Ein halber Hund kann nicht pinkeln" and "Schwarzwaldfahrt", which was recorded outside, in the open air.

In Derek Bailey's book "Improvisation" you can find, as a quote, one of Misha Mengelberg's key statements about 'understanding' (what an absurd word, as if one could under-stand music !): "I would not know what Bennink means with his music but when our misunderstandings are combined we think sometimes that things are fitting, sometimes complimentary." It is logical that both the misunderstandings and the chances to correspond with each other in an unconventional way are potentiated in this trio constellation.

Both gets a hearing: the bewilderment and congeniality, dissociation and fraternisation. Also the distance from and nearness to Jazz. The three individualities prove to be totally unmistakable. It is the common fund of experience in music and life which allows them to build up a musical mesh. Fluxus and Dada, John Cage and Thelonious Monk, also Nam June Paik and Coleman Hawkins, as far as Brötzmann is concerned – none of this is quoted. Yet it's all there – not in the sense of formative experiences but as personalities who know what they are doing. Action and musicality go together here. The acoustic events develop ingeniously out of the process of playing and communicating. Even when the musical happenings open out in the direction of performance, everything remains comprehensible without using the eyes, just with the ears alone.

Within this anti-academic chamber music we experience a dense succession of sequences with different sound characteristics and quickly changing attitudes of playing. Alongside the interactions in the trio, different dialogue situations are repeatedly tested out. The etude-like corresponds to the attitude of treading cautiously and does not demonstrate the participants' lack of faculty but their lack of prejudice. In a radical sense it is about Improvisation as the unprepared and the unpredictable. This includes humour but is based on a damned seriousness and a requirement which sets as standard succeeding in the (un-premeditated) moment, and even manages to accept the consequence of failure.

Peter Brötzmann brings in screaming sounds and 'sound' poetics, distorted Jazz ballads and sound fragments, has, in the Jazz sense, maybe the strongest tendency towards the rhapsodic, towards expressionism. Misha Mengelberg, as always, lets himself be inspired by the situation to wonderful throws of the piano and escapades. Han Bennink follows the philosophy of the Here and Now with multi-instrumental actions, can be taken as a percussionist just as much as a clarinet and saxophone player, finally as an 'all-sounds'-musician. Whatever he blows, beats or plucks proves to make sense within the process of what is happening, and is often spot on in the musical sense. The conventional criteria are shifted. Virtuosity, here, no longer means technical virtuosity but the ability to react and concordance within the course of playing.

All three know enough about each other regarding ways of reacting, hallmarks and taste. And yet not enough to play it safe. European tradition and Jazz, commercial music and 'Art', memories of the twenties and current sound explorations – everything can flow in but nothing has to be proven. The chance occurrence gains importance, spontaneity, of which we all know that it doesn't just come without any preconditions. Even then, this music was anything but monochrome. "3 Points And A Mountain" allows us to experience and live through a sensory abundance and multitude characterised by a constant, difficult to define consistency: from the scream to the edges of silence.

Among the most irritating and, at the same time, most fascinating moments are the ones that could be described in the words: Three musicians in search of a piece. The process of exploring and mutual musical probing becomes the detonator of the (spontaneous) composing. This can only work in such a way because nobody has to pretend, because for all three musicians it is neither about gags nor about tricks.

Many years later, in 1993, on one of the Darmstadt 'Jazzforen', Misha Mengelberg formulated brilliantly what is so difficult to put into words: "I let life and day-to-day living into my piano playing. When I play the piano, I feel like a man repairing a bicycle. It's about getting the bike back together again. And he's got his coffee, and maybe he's smoking a cigar. And nobody asks him: Why do you smoke while you're working? Or: Why are you drinking coffee? In the end, you only ask: Is the bike working again?"

He goes it alone, in tandem, with entirely different themes and common motivations, as trio, side by side and together. "3 Points And A Mountain", music between Matjes and Majestoso, between pub and Concertgebouw. Exactly where life is happening.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

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