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November 1998

Misha Mengelberg Trio
No Idea
DIW

Before embarking on a 30-year-plus odyssey as a free improviser and ringleader of the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra, pianist Misha Mengelberg was the go-to guy for well-known soloists traveling through Holland as a single; his most important association from this early '60s time frame was with Eric Dolphy, with whom he recorded the late great's Last Date. This left him with a vast data bank of standards and seemingly endless ways to turn them inside out. This approach has aged well over the years, as evidenced by No Idea, Mengelberg's second DIW date with bassist Greg Cohen and drummer Joey Baron.

Mengelberg's interpretations are propelled not just by his chapter and verse knowledge of the jazz piano tradition; his take on "House Party Starting" reveals his distillation of Herbie Nichols' unique blend of pre-bop elegance and modernist design. It is his offhanded brand of brinkmanship that gives his work its curmudgeonly charm. On standards like "Begin the Beguine," his nimbly arpeggiated phrases suddenly end in jabbed chords and clusters that threaten to splatter against the chord changes, only to be swept up by a well-timed, well-turned phrase. Throughout the proceedings, Mengelberg's capers are aided by Cohen and Baron's steadfast support, and occasional, pungent asides.

Even if you find Mengelberg's free improvisations to be a hit-and-miss affair, there's no denying his pivotal role in the evolution of jazz in Europe. No Idea supports that idea convincingly.

Originally published in November 1998
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