Cellists are few and far between in the jazz world, which is just one reason Fred Lonberg-Holm is special. His approach to the instrument is decidedly non-classical, reaping as it does all sorts of alternative tonal colors that would be deemed "incorrect," which makes it ideal for the sort of in-and-out improvisation that he favors. Lonberg-Holm has called Chicago home since the late '90s, and in the last few years he's built up important relationships with several local players, including Ken Vandermark; he's also a member of Peter Brötzmann's sprawling talent-rich Tentet.
Other Valentines is a sequel of sorts to Lonberg-Holm's previous trio record, A Valentine for Fred Katz (Atavistic, 2002), but its sources of inspiration are wider-ranging, as judged by the composers of these ten medium-length tracks, which include Sun Ra, Jeff Tweedy, Syd Barrett, and Gil Scott-Heron. (The aforementioned Fred Katz pops his head up again at the end, and Lonberg-Holm includes a couple of his own pieces along the way.) Bassist Jason Roebke returns from the earlier recording, and drummer Frank Rosaly ably replaces Glenn Kotche.
Melody comes first in this music, and Lonberg-Holm makes his instrument truly sing on "Winter in America," which he turns into a warm, expressive torch song atop minimal rhythm section accompaniment. Swing is sometimes important, too, as evidenced by the opening Sun Ra tune, which has a light, catchy, finger-snapping groove. But when the cellist travels the outer spaceways, so to speak, he adds a layer or two of tension and release that defy easy comprehension. This is involving music, though it may appear deceptively simple at times, and it presents many opportunities where raw intuition serves as a better roadmap than the usual sort of pattern recognition.
To the extent these pieces can be classified, each is a song of some sort with its own mood and message, which reflects the spirit of romance implied in the album's title. And the singer, in almost all cases, is Fred Lonberg-Holm, who manages to imprint each piece with a distinctive aura. Elegant, creative, and at times minimalistic, this recording doesn't scream for attention, but it rewards it on many levels.