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Misha Mengelberg: Solo

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Misha Mengelberg is an important enough figure that even his lesser efforts reward serious listeners. Of course, his approach often makes the question of what’s lesser or greater difficult, as at times the whole idea seems to be to make us rethink the listening process. The first track features a highly personal version of the kind of rapid-fire running around that most pianists since Cecil Taylor have done, and this is the easiest listening one gets on Solo. One title refers to Richard Wagner, so perhaps a specific kind of deconstruction is going on, but the composer evoked without having more clues is again Satie-not the Satie of the “Gymnopedies” but that of “Sports et Divertissements.”

Mengelberg toys with various simple ideas that remind one of children’s songs, church music and even, occasionally, of jazz, but he is more likely to pull things apart than develop them. Criticism is pretty well defied by all of this, but I can say that while I often feel like I’m being set up to expect something that never happens, I remain engaged by the process. A lot of music is called intellectual, but this stuff really is. A master like Wellstood creates a level of trust by making excellent musical choices that allow the listener to relax in confidence that whatever comes next will be a treat. Mengelberg seems to work at disrupting any such comfortable relationship, yet manages to engender trust on a different level.