The Fred Lonberg-Holm trio is composed of Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, Jason Roebke on bass and Frank Rosaly on drums. This combination poses some problems, as their new album Other Valentines proves. The cello and bass crowd each other when the cello goes low, creating a claustrophobic tonal atmosphere. The trio doesn't have an instrument that can play actual chords, limiting the possibilities for harmonic development. Lonberg-Holm has the only melody instrument, and more often than not neither Roebke nor Rosaly get to solo, which means that we hear a whole lotta cello up top.
None of this necessarily condemns Other Valentines to monotony, but Lonberg-Holm doesn't do much to rescue it from that fate. He's picked songs from diverse sources (Cat Power, Sun Ra, Jeff Tweedy, Gil Scott-Heron), but they're all midtempo, and he plays almost all of them in full legato ballad mode. His development style doesn't vary much, either; on some tracks, like his own "Flu," he'll pull out effects like double-stopping, but mostly he's just noodling on chords in the cello's tenor range.
Like a lot of jazz albums nowadays, Other Valentines feels like a good idea explored at unconscionable length.