Four By / With Fred Lonberg-Holm

Fred Lonberg-Holm Quartet

Carlos Zingaro/Fred Lonberg-Holm
Self Release

David Stackenäs/Fred Lonberg-Holm
Self Release

In Zenith

Fred Lonberg-Holm’s Bridges Freeze Before Roads is a challenging album that distributes delicacies and abrasions with extreme balance and exquisite finesse. Lonberg-Holm is not a “leader” but a coordinator of revolutionary minorities, fragmenting and seaming his ideas into incidental murmurs and self-conscious vibrations, his cello gleaming in a malaised sunshine. Clarinettist Guillermo Gregorio’s excruciatingly difficult anti-structures alternately sting and caress, highlighting his utter control of timbre; his pregnant emissions splinter into thousands of harmonics then reunite, if necessary, into a sine wave. Jason Roebke and Glenn Kotche are nothing like a “rhythm section”: Roebke uses his bass to warm what could be icy music, plucking and snapping in spurts, while Kotche’s percussion is like falling leaves, faint breaths and dessicated fruits on an ancient table, ants crawling all over the place to look for stale crumbs, brittle remnants of what once was defined as beat.

You’ll rarely find a violin/cello duo richer in fantasy, inventiveness and – why not – lyricism than Lonberg-Holm and Carlos Zingaro. The improvisations on Flying Aspidistra #2 were recorded in Chicago in 2003; the music is snappishly spontaneous, taking shape in the space of a few seconds only to catch sight of itself in a broken mirror and run away. The musicians are armed with dazzling technique, as well as a willingness to give one another handsome presents and furuncular eruptions in equal doses. Zingaro can make his violin sound guttural and whistling, eligible for a pungent seance with any wacky troubled soul willing to stop for a chat. Lonberg-Holm saws and carves away in a spirit of dauntless exploration, constructing multicoloured kites that fly around his comrade’s fiddling. These excellent tracks confirm both musicians’ place on the cutting edge of radical string-playing, introducing the listener to new gospels of dissonant egalitarianism and plucky musical intelligence.

Flying Aspidistra #3 is a direct-to-DAT series of duos for guitar and cello recorded in 2004. It’s very different from #2, a tranquil, almost pensive album which only seldom abandons the prevailing mood of thoughtfulness and reflection. For the most part, Stackenäs works with delicately dissonant, resonant chords, which he lets unfold with a contemplative satisfaction without hurry or nervous juggling. Lonberg-Holm complements him effectively, elaborating elegant on-the-spot counterpoint and droning melancholy, spiced with heartbreaking contrasts in a sort of hybrid Veliotis-meets-Cora style. Even when the players immerse themselves in harsher kinds of meditation – as on tracks 5 and 6 – we can’t help but appreciate the downright clarity of their interplay. Another unknown gem in the Aspidistra series.

In Zenith is a trio of Lonberg-Holm, Jeb Bishop (trombone, bass, guitar) and Michael Zerang (drums). They play an electrifying concoction of styles marked by a fun-drenched optimism (CD title included). The first comparisons that come to mind are Curlew and the Tiptons, yet the music is often slightly more consonant – as in a cantabile theme like “Betsy Come In”. If you need a helping of tangential bobbing-and-weaving fury instead, look no further than the splendidly titled “Morton Gets the Urge”, where the musicians seem to be looking for a quick hiding-place after throwing a rock at a sleeping grizzly. In this genreless mayhem Lonberg-Holm’s cello is the main voice, while Bishop – except for a few more lyrical trombone parts – performs a multitask, high-energy role. Zerang sustains the whole structure and adds his own interpolations and flurries. The disc was mastered by Jim O’Rourke, and it’s a nice one, likely to be appreciated by alternative rock and RIO aficionados, even if it is a notch below Bridges and the Aspidistras.


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