Fred Lonberg-Holm keeps himself so busy with such a vast number of projects that it seems nearly impossible to know what to expect from him. Will he be the vicious cello-scraping improviser of Ballister or the Fred Katz disciple of the Valentine Trio? On both of these recent albums, he falls somewhere in between.
Fast Citizens consists of six strong musical leaders based in or affiliated with Chicago. Their first two albums gave leadership and writing responsibilities to saxophonists Keefe Jackson and Aram Shelton, respectively. Lonberg-Holm’s turn results in a series of formidable compositions that balance lyricism with wild frenzy and good humor. The latter quality is on display in “Infra-Pass,” where Shelton’s fast and intricate alto solo is interrupted by a vocal shriek from Jackson’s bass clarinet (an instrument he plays here more than his usual tenor). It arrives amid metallic noise from Lonberg-Holm’s cello and sounds so outrageous that it can only be the result of good-natured tomfoolery. Plus, it leads to the tune’s second great bass clarinet solo.
Lonberg-Holm switches to tenor guitar on several tracks, lending something of a progressive-rock lilt to the music, which Anton Hatwich (bass) and Frank Rosaly (drums) drive along, especially in “Later News.” He uses looping effects to shape “Simpler Days,” a 10-minute ballad that follows the equally pensive “Lazy Day.” Some of the wildest moments on Gather come from one of the two works penned by other band members. Jackson’s “Roses” is full of brief sketches, pregnant pauses and a section where all six musicians blow trumpets or cornets. Even though Lonberg-Holm didn’t write it, the work bears his compositional influence, which features a great sense of adventure.
The cellist reveals yet another facet of his style with Seval, which includes performers from Sweden’s new music/improvising scene. For the group’s sophomore album, Lonberg-Holm penned all eight selections, including clever lyrics. The chamber-like lineup includes cello, guitar, trumpet, bass and the soprano vocals of Sofia Jernberg. Arrangements are often spare and delicate with instruments echoing Jernberg’s crisp enunciations perhaps a little too closely. “Revolution Song” breaks free, though, when the vocalist imitates saxophone shrieks and blends in with her comrades’ swelling sound.