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The Flatlands Collective
In 2002, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm released an album called A Valentine for Fred Katz, a tribute to the venerable cellist and veteran of the bands of Chico Hamilton and Carmen McRae, as well as a composer and bandleader in his own right. Lonberg-Holm reconvened that album's trio, drummer Frank Rosaly replacing original member Glenn Kotche, for Other Valentines in 2005, focusing now on music by Sun Ra, Gil Scott-Heron, Syd Barrett and Katz again.
Now for the third edition of albums with the word 'valentine' in the title, Lonberg-Holm ceases to fête his elders and instead serves up an inviting album of his own tunes. The group is the same - Rosaly and stalwart bassist Jason Roebke - but the circumstances are different. A year prior to recording Terminal Valentine, Lonberg-Holm, long a participant in many Chicago ensembles, joined the Vandermark 5 as a permanent member and perhaps some of that group's visceral quality has rubbed off on the cellist.
That is not to say that Terminal Valentine is a barn-storming album akin to the Vandermark 5's work. Quite the contrary actually. The album, ten originals by Lonberg-Holm, graciously arranged by the trio, is a lovely, almost pastoral effort, with the kind of folky beauty one might find in the painting of Pieter Brueghel. There may be moments of grit or abstraction but they are squarely in the service of diaphanous, slightly melancholy melodies. That gauziness is enhanced by what is now a highly communicative group: Roebke's bass adds warm grandfatherly admonitions and Rosaly's delicate drums guide instead of push, murmuring not punctuating. Lonberg-Holm can best be described as reflective here, allowing his melodies and their resultant movements to ripple gently across the surface.
Lonberg-Holm and Roebke go from this peaceful scene to Gnomade, the inaugural album of Dutch saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra's The Flatlands Collective. The group brings Dijkstra together with several of Chicago's accomplished modern improvisers. In addition to Lonberg-Holm and Roebke (who replaced original member Kent Kessler), also on hand are Tim Mulvenna (drums), James Falzone (clarinet) and trombonist Jeb Bishop (the man Lonberg-Holm replaced in the Vandermark 5, though their relationship goes back much further. In addition to alto sax, Dijkstra also plays lyricon and analog synthesizer.
Gnomade can be ascribed all the usual adjectives: angular, abstract, quirky. Like Terminal Valentine, the most compelling feature are the melodies, jaunty little things (by everyone but Mulvenna) that allow for delicious textures that sound at once modern and very nostalgic. Though there are several authors, there is an aesthetic unity, an appealing feel across all the tracks, especially in some of the punch rhythms. This is the music of the country fair, the slightly off-kilter roller coaster, the barker asking passers-by to test their strength. It is like cotton candy: big, colorful and sticks to your face.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Three Note Song; Maybe Its Too Late; And You Smile; No One Will Ever Be Forgotten; Just Don't Listen (To The Birds); There Never Was A Reason; Shift Of the Eye; There's No Way; I Know You; One For The Road.
Personnel: Fred Lonberg-Holm: cello; Jason Roebke: bass; Frank Rosaly: drums.
Tracks: Wire Tap; Gnomade; Five to Twelve; Flank; Alp Doodler; Mute; Rabbits; Longtones; The 4:08; Slitch; Dipje
Personnel: Jorrit Dijkstra: alto saxophone, lyricon, analog synthesizer; James Falzone: clarinet; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Fred Lonberg-Holm: violin; Jason Roebke: bass; Tim Mulvenna: drums.