Aan & Uit
As a child the Italian writer Italo Calvino marched in fascist parades and then came home to the populist socialism of his antifascist parents. Yet, he says, it wasn't a difficult situation. Contradictions like these help shape a life. Calvino may have been the ideal listener for the ICP Orchestra, a decades-old ensemble that runs on contradiction. This improvising ensemble, currently staffed with 10 players, neatly folds a stack of contradiction into their most recent recording, Aan & Uit (ICP). In what turns out to be a feint, a jaunty, cleanly played 20-second theme opens and closes the recording. In between, American hot jazz rubs up against moody European cabaret and clunky brass band music, chamber classical and conducted free improvisation. Hard-driving swing encounters pulselessness. Stately themes played by the strings alternate with barnyard animal noises and nonsense vocals. At the center of the recording is pianist/composer Misha Mengelberg's "Picnic," a suite in six parts sporting comically banal titles like "A Beautiful Day," and "Let's Go to the River." The music itself-a series of unpredictable encounters between members of the ensemble separated by short silences and bookended by an upbeat traveling theme-is considerably more troubling and evasive then the names suggest. More soberly delivered absurdism and crack playing fills the disc to near capacity-it tops 70 minutes. Other highlights include trumpeter Thomas Heberer's "Let's Climb a Hill," also a feature for him, and a sanguine run through Hoagy Carmichael's "Barbaric," taken at a polyphonic tilt of Minguslike intensity.