ICP Orchestra in Oakland


As I heard someone say at the show, the ICP Orchestra basically consists of bandleaders, nine of them in this case (with a tenth absent). Convening them is a like a magic trick. Getting them a gig in California is an economic magic trick.

Duende, the new restaurant in Oakland, hosted the ICP Orchestra recently for a standing-room-only concert in the upstairs loft. The restaurant was even more packed than the last time I’d visited, with a Thursday night crowd demonstrating what a hotspot the place has become. But it didn’t spoil the fun.

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Setting up. Glerum on bass, Oliver on violin.

Dutch jazz is where classical virtuosity and modern eclecticism collide with a love of old big-band charts and an irrepressible sense of humor. Drummer Han Bennink was highlighted in the promo material, for name recognition and for being a co-founder of ICP — but the band was full of other talented, theatrical headliners — Walter Wierbos on trombone, or the formidable sax line of Michael Moore, Ab Baars, and Tobias Delius, for example.

What makes it all click is a vibrant and contagious team spirit. There’s no perceived leader and no sense of ego, just a lot of love for the music and a furious dedication towards wringing the best out of each song.

Violinist Mary Oliver took mic duties during the show, introducing the songs and the band. They played compositions by various band members and by Misha Mengelberg, the ICP’s other co-founder, who sat out this tour. A song by Herbie Nichols appeared early in the first set as well.

Honsinger checks his charts during intermission.

The composed charts were effusive and celebratory, with a big horn sound that easily drowned out the dining-room crowd. Many pieces included stretches of free improvisation by two or three of the players, exciting little vignettes. Early in the first set, ICP took a chance with some very silent improv stretches against the noisy restaurant. I know they’re accustomed to those kinds of conditions, but it was nice that the audiences stayed attuned, too.

Despite the distractions, the Duende loft does have an intimate feel; it works well with music you’re really trying to connect to. I remember bassist Ernst Glerum taking a few particularly fun solos, trumpeter Thomas Heberer doing some flashy work in the spotlight, and Oliver going nuts on violin in a few spaces.

The second set actually amped things up, with Cellist Tristan Honsinger conducting one of his compositions. I couldn’t see well from my chair, but he got quite a few laughs, and it’s one of the pieces people were excitedly talking about after the show.

“Caravan” made for an obvious but spirited finale.

Just as I was grateful to have seen the Willem Breuker Kollektief years ago, I’m glad to have taken the opportunity to see ICP. It’s not just Han Bennink; it’s the whole ensemble, the altruistic allegiance toward the cause of great music, that makes ICP a special experience.

Back in Holland, they’ve put together a 52-CD boxed catalogue of the band’s entire output, with 2 DVDs and a photo book, for roughly US$700. Each box is hand-painted by Bennink. It’s a bit much for me, but I can understand why more than 300 enthusiasts committed to buying copies.

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Outro: Oliver introduces the band.

…. By the way, if you want to see much better photos of this band, from later on in this same tour, check out Peter Gannushkin’s work.

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