Fred Lonberg-Holm / Tony Malaby / John Hollenbeck / Peter Brötzmann

April 8, 2009

The Brain of the Dog in Section

Atavistic ALP 186 CD

Tony Malaby Cello Trio


Songlines SGL SA1574-2

Hardest working man in cello business, Chicago-based Fred Lonberg-Holm is the point of intersection for these sessions. More to the point, even though both feature his strings and electronics plus the talents of an unfettered saxophonist – as well as percussionist John Hollenbeck on Warblepeck – the results couldn’t be more different.

Partnered alongside Lonberg-Holm on The Brain of the Dog in Section is veteran Peter Brötzmann playing alto and tenor saxophones, Bb clarinet and torogato in his usual take-no-prisoners style. Lasting fewer than 38 minutes both men demonstrate how stark, unfettered, harsh improvisation reveal the essence of improvisation.

Featuring the tenor and soprano saxophone of Tony Malaby – a quarter-century younger than Brötzmann – the other CD seems as if it could be subtitled “field recordings from Brooklyn”. Certainly over the course of 11 tunes and nearly 55 minutes, the three players expose a panoply of rhythms, tones, timbres and pitches. At points sounding like Ornette Coleman’s electric bands at others like literal primitivist music, unexpected sonic excitement arrives not only from the others’ command of their two instruments, but from Hollenbeck’s garage sale collection of percussion implements which include drums, a marimba, a xylophone, a glockenspiel, a melodica and small kitchen appliances. Hollenbeck, who in other contexts plays straight ahead jazz and chamber-influenced music, apparently has the knack to choose the proper percussion sound and instrument for each of the mostly Malaby-composed tunes.

Starting with the title track the general groove is of Prime Time meets junkeroo –that is until the program advances to glockenspiel-splintering beats and repetitive node-splitting strums and runs from Lonberg-Holm. Eventually the theme is defined with choruses of gritty tenor saxophone by Malaby. With the three harmonizing or operating in triple counterpoint, the other tracks range from those which touch on chamber improv – featuring cello glissandi plus carefully positioned marimba and xylophone strokes from the percussionist – to those which deconstruct monadic traditional forms into buffo North American variants.

“Sky Church” for example, evolves from a moderato melody advanced by the saxophonist aided by kit drumming rattles and straight-ahead bowing to fissure created by Lonberg-Holm’s oscillated tone pressure plus nerve beats and friction from Hollenbeck. Spiccato string sweeps patched and modulated through electronics eventually redefine the theme, aided by Malaby’s foreshortened saxophone trills. Finally the saxophonist uses tremolo reed bites to reconstitute noises into an equally appealing variant. Similarly “Anemone” concludes with an interlude of satisfying triple unison from the three, but only after portamento low pitches from the cello plus glockenspiel friction give way to wispy breaths from the tenor saxophone built on top of celesta-like patterns from the marimba.

Surprisingly, the trio’s reading of Bill Frissell’s “Waiting Inside” manages to present the tune in balladic mode at commencement and conclusion. But the band proves its originality by enlivening a mid-section by masking cello glissandi and ruffling obbligatos from the tenor saxophone, with accordion-like squeals from Hollenbeck’s melodica and shrill string slices from Lonberg-Holm.

No one would ever confuse Brötzmann for a discreet and genteel chamber player – re-read this CD’s title for a clue to his persona. But at this point his reed command is so entrenched that his range overwhelms even if the textures exposed can resemble the death rattle of a carnivorous animal or the warning cries of a carrion-seeking bird of prey. Lonberg-Holm’s harsh oscillations, ring modulator-suggested vamps and agitated sul ponticello flanges are perfect in this context, since they set up abrasive counterpoint to the reedist’s blustering multiphonics.

Concentrating more on the details of the journey rather than the destination, the Brötzmann-Lonberg-Holm duo is in constant contact. But while double counterpoint may appear from time-to-time – on purpose rather than by hazard – unison harmony is not an option. Instead Brötzmann often blows directly into his horns’ body tube, eschewing the niceties of key patterns or tonguing, transforming the instrument into a percussion source. Meanwhile the cellist’s agitated and abrasive attack splinters into spiccato, often tremolo, lines and jetes.

This pattern is repeated when Brötzmann brings out Bb clarinet or torogató, so that broken chords can be hummed, buzzed or shrilled. Taking up the challenge, the cellist’s bowing range includes blurry, electronic-helped multiphonics that wobble, crackle and rub. Shuffle bowing meets broadening whistles among other face-offs, so that each man creates at the same level of intensity. The concordance is such that the strident tessitura suggests both as equal parts of a single string-horn instrument.

Climatically the string-rubbing on one side and note-spraying on the other is eventually superseded and narrowed to solitary squeaks – hard and sharp with irregular vibrations and glossolalia on Brötzmann’s part – as Lonberg-Holm not only plucks but also unleashes pulsating, twittering wave forms. The finale encompasses reed raspberries with a side helping of dissonant glissandi.

Cello played smoothly or stridently is on show on each of these notable discs. Remarkably they arrive from the same source.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Brain: 1. Section 1 2. Section 2 3. Section 3

Personnel: Brain: Peter Brötzmann (alto and tenor saxophones, Bb clarinet and torogató) and Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello and electronics)

Track Listing: Warblepeck: 1. Warblepeck 2. 2. Jackhat 1 3. 3. Two Shadows 4. Waiting Inside 5. Fly on Wall/Remolino 6. Anemone 7. Anemone Vamp 8. Sky Church

9. Scribble Boy 10. Jackhat 2 11. Chicotaso

Personnel: Warblepeck: Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano saxophones); Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello and electronics) and John Hollenbeck (drums, marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, melodica and small kitchen appliances)