The cello may not be the most common instrument in jazz, but over the years it has had a number of significant proponents, including the late Fred Katz and more recently Erik Friedlander, Vincent Courtois, and Hank Roberts. Add to that list Fred Lonberg-Holm, who, while based in New York for a number of years since emerging on the scene in '90, now resides in Chicago and has recently replaced trombonist Jeb Bishop in saxophonist Ken Vandermark's Vandermark 5. With a résumé that includes work with rock, jazz, and avant-garde bands, it's no surprise that his own discography has been so stylistically diverse.
But when Lonberg-Holm released A Valentine for Fred Katz
(Atavistic, '02) it was something of a surprise, and for more than one reason. First, it was a relatively straight-ahead session where Lonberg-Holm demonstrated a lyrical side that, while evident in his other projects, had never been thrust so much to the forefront. Second, it was a trio sessionand an odd one at thatwith Lonberg-Holm fronting a traditional bass and drums rhythm section. Its followup, Other Valentines
, is also a trio session, with bassist Jason Roebke back from A Valentine for Fred Katz
and newcomer Frank Rosaly on drums. But this time, Lonberg-Holm demonstrates just how esoteric his musical interests are, interpreting material by Pink Floyd, Wilco (with whom he's recorded), Cat Power, Sagor & Swing, Sun Ra, and Gil Scott-Heron, along with two of his own originals: one by Roebke and, for continuity, a nod to Fred Katz as well.
While some might think, based on the programme, that the Lonberg-Holm Trio is the E.S.T. or the Bad Plus of the cello trio, this is far from the case. While the novelty of a cello trio could degenerate into the realm of shtick, it simply never happens. The trio's ability to expand upon these memorable and recognizable melodies makes for a compelling listen from start to finish. That the sonorities are restricted to the low end of the sonic spectrum is a fact soon forgotten in the trio's soft-edged and smooth-surfaced approach.
Poignant and sometimes melancholic, with a disposition towards introspection that remains delicately-spirited at the same time, Other Valentines has its own voice. And while a specific focus pervades the set, it has plenty of range as well. "Arnold Layne, by Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett, moves along with a gentle backbeat from Rosaly, while Cat Power's "Fool has an alt-country ambience. Sun Ra's "East of Uz swings lightly and is less idiosyncratic than one might expect, and Gil Scott-Heron's "Winter in America, another tune with a distinct backbeat, is as dark as the trio gets.
While the format of the Longberg-Holm trio might frighten off some potential listeners, at the end of the day that's their loss. Those prepared to put aside preconceptions may be surprised at how unassuming and deeply emotional a cello/bass/drums trio can be, and how completely captivating Other Valentines truly is.