R.I.P.: Misha Mengelberg

First a couple of wise men offer their thoughts far better than I could manage off the top of my head:

Kevin Whitehead

and then

Peter Margasak

We saw Misha in various configurations maybe six-seven times over the years. When Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art was running a series of jazz concerts (sigh — seems like a different world) they featured Mengelberg’s I(nstant) C(omposer) P(ool) Orchestra as often as possible — almost every year.

Two shows elsewhere jump out. The very last time we heard Misha was a show at Harvard University. He aged dramatically after his 1997 heart attack, but at this show, maybe 10 years ago, for the first time he sounded a bit … off-target. We did not know at the time that he was showing signs of  Alzheimer’s.

The most sublime Misha moments were during a duet concert with Ab Baars at the Bimhuis, which we were lucky enough to see on our only visit to Amsterdam. You could tell he was playing for the home crowd. I understood Misha’s language — how he was nonstop entertaining without ever being shallow; how Misha’s profound insight into Thelonious Monk was that he was an incessant and sophisticated wit; and that Misha made free improvisation feel joyous and foxy rather than serious and heroic.

I think I spontaneous pulled my first recommendation from the shelves this afternoon:

ICP Orchestra, Jubilee Varia (hatOLOGY, 1999) — his final release before his coronary.

I will close with the funny he said during one of the ICA concerts that I will never forget:

“We have been doing numbers for every letter of the alphabet in sequence. We are down to the letter “K.” This is ‘Ktable.'”

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