Oh, My Dog!

COMPOSERS: ICP Orchestra
LABELS: ICP
WORKS: Oh, My Dog!
PERFORMER: Thomas Heberer (t), Wolter Wierbos (tb), Ab Baars (ts, cl), Michael Moore (as, cl), Misha Mengelberg (p), Mary Oliver (vn, vla), Tristan Honsinger (vc), Ernst Glerum (b), Han Bennink (d)
CATALOGUE NO: ICP 040

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Dutch improvisers have been stereotyped as comic, theatrical types, much of this deriving from the career-long merrymaking of Han Bennink, Misha Mengelberg and Willem Breuker, the three musicians who founded the ICP (Instant Composers Pool) concept close on 40 years ago now.

Oh, My Dog! will not confound the image: it’s comic and theatrical, as well as urgent and doubtless profound. The opening four-minute improvisation, ‘Write Down Exactly’, is a little miracle of nine people making a seemly racket without getting in each other’s way.

Baars, an often gloomy presence on his own records, pays peculiar homage to Charles Ives with ‘A Close Encounter with Charles’s Country Band’, while Mengelberg’s ‘À la Russe’ starts as a stately Russian folk-tune before gradually curdling into the mildest of dissonance.

Michael Moore, whose piped, astringent delivery is a neat counter to Baars, brings in ‘Ham on Air’, which pirouettes between horn lines of trenchant melancholy and string- and drum-parts that savagely undermine the equilibrium of the music.

The string players are, indeed, crucial to the orchestra’s sound, scurrying around the edges or howling antiphonal responses to the horns. It is a bizarre world, where you’re never sure if you should be grinning or flinching.

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At the back, the incomparable Bennink – who’s blessed with a superb sound in the studio mix – thumps, bangs and crashes, yet with such pinpoint control that he energises and makes plausible every unlikely development and direction which unfolds. Serious fun, you might say. Richard Cook