Other Valentines
Atavistic ALP 165CD

Bridges Freeze Before Roads
Longbox Records lbt036

Chicago cello crusader Fred Lonberg-Holm is usually so busy with his back-up duties in bands ranging from the Vamndermark5 to Peter Brötzmann’s Tentet to what seems like half the CDs recorded in that city, that his solo dates are infrequent.

From the evidence presented here, this may be a wise strategy. OTHER VALENTINES is his own trio’s follow-up tribute CD to the music of pioneering jazz cellist Fred Katz. It also includes compositions by, among others Sun Ra, Gil Scott-Heron, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett. But indolent pacing and a limited color palate stick the 10 tracks in a box of muted sameness that it barely escapes.

Cello, bass and drums can only express so much, especially if the cellist insists on taking most of the solos. BRIDGES FREEZE BEFORE ROADS fares better however. It’s probably because while it, like the other CD, features the cellist, the same bassist (Jason Roebke of Tigersmilk), and a drummer – Wilco’s Glenn Kotche, who preceded Frank Rosaly as part of the Lonberg-Holm trio is here, Rosaly on the other disc –– Guillermo Gregorio is also on hand. The Argentinean-born, Chicago-based clarinetist’s harsh pitches and layering strokes.

Another difference is that while OTHER VALENTINES is apparently a collection of songs, BRIDGES FREEZE BEFORE ROADS works to ascertain how many textures and timbres can be organized on six identically titled tracks

Although Lonberg-Holm’s pizzicato skills extend to making his cello sound like an acoustic guitar on some tracks, on OTHER VALENTINES this merely adds another placid layer to the performances. Despite, or because of it “Vals På Vinegar” ends up sounding like a poignant take on “Hey Jude”. On the other hand, the preponderance of arco textures elsewhere makes the indie-rock and alt-country themes here sound as if they’re really soft rock tunes performed by the 1001 Strings. Originals like the cellist’s “Almost Mid-Day” – taken adagio like much of the rest of the CD – move in a straight line without reaching a destination. Meanwhile Katz’s own composition, “To My Buddy, Buddy” may have some quietly spectacular double-stopping from the cellist in middle, but these bumps soon subside to sameness.

Barrett’s “Arnold Layne”, and surprisingly enough “Flo”, another Lonberg-Holm composition, are the only tracks that really stand out. The former does so because of the triple-stopped splintered textures from the cellist that is doubled with Roebke’s bass line. The later offers some polyphonic pulses from Lonberg-Holm, some broken octave interface between the three and Rosaly, who plays less conventionally in the Chicago Luzern Exchange, another band in which he’s featured, rattling and slapping his snares and cymbals.

In contrast, Free Improv and New Music currents are built into the tracks on BRIDGES FREEZE BEFORE ROADS as Gregorio’s harsh, buzzy obbligatos bring out complementary textures from the cellist. Out of the blue, it seems, Lonberg-Holm is using his bow on the space beneath the bridge, up near the tuning pegs, and vibrating the wood of his instrument’s back and belly.

The reedist’s tonal expansion takes in bubbling trills and sibilant split tones in the coloratura register, as well as the gradually expelling of colored air. Simultaneously Lonberg-Holm scratches new pitches from his strings, Roebke underscores the others with pedal-point, and Kotche shakes and rattles his drums while ringing small bells. Eventually the diffuse tones unite polyphonically as the piece is concluded with lip buzzing vibrations and punctuated textures from Gregorio.

Lonberg-Holm followers may treat OTHER VALENTINES less severely, but examined in this context with the other CD, it suggests that the cellist needs the challenge of powerful contrasts to do better work.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Bridges: 1. exit: 3’37” 2. exit: 6’50” 3. exit: 9’20” 4. exit: 4’57” 5. exit: 6’41” 6. exit: 7’39”

Personnel: Bridges: Guillermo Gregorio (clarinet); Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello); Jason Roebke (bass); Glenn Kotche (percussion)

Track Listing: Valentines: 1. East of Uz 2. Fool 3. Arnold Layne 4. Amost Mid-Day 5. Vals På Vinegar 6. Flo 7. Winter in America 8. Jesus Etc. 9. I Got Nothing 10. To My Buddy, Buddy

Personnel: Valentines: Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello); Jason Roebke (bass); Frank Rosaly (drums)