Dutch Avant Jazz Pianist and Innovator Misha Mengelberg Dies at 81

Misha Mengelberg, piano luminary in the Dutch free jazz scene and co–founder of the Instant Composers Pool, died in Amsterdam today at the age of 81.

Mengelberg rose to eminence starting in the late 1960s at the nexus of the Fluxus and free jazz movements. His first recording appearance happens to be on one of the most consequential albums for the Netherlands’ budding jazz scene, playing piano on Eric Dolphy’s Last Date recorded less than a month before Dolphy’s own passing.

Dolphy found loving audiences in the Netherlands, and Mengelberg was among the key Dutch players finding inspiration for a native scene. The Dutch avant jazz scene, revolving around venues like the Bimhuis, would go on to become one of the most vibrant in Europe, thanks in large part to Mengelberg.

Mengelberg helped form the Instant Composers Pool out of a Fluxus impulse, alongside percussionist Han Bennink and saxophone player Willem Breuker. The ICP resembled the American avant jazz collective Association for Advancement of Creative Music in form, featuring a rotating cast of improvisers, including the AACM’s own members like George Lewis.

Through the ICP Orchestra and in collaboration with fellow innovators like Peter Brotzman, Derek Bailey, Steve Lacy, and Anthony Braxton, Mengelberg helped stake out a distinctly European free improvisation language steeped in space, careful listening, and a very Dutch free-wheeling and sometimes tongue–in–cheek attitude.

Mengelberg drew from Thelonious Monk and John Cage alike to create an a lyrical, impressionistic improvisation style all his own. His was a sound always ringing with jazz’s past, always aimed at the future, experienced best in the present.

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