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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Fred Lonberg-Holm & Ken Vandermark ‎– Resistance (Bocian, 2015) ****

By Martin Schray

When Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello, electronics) and Ken Vandermark (sax, clarinet) played in Weikersheim last May everybody expected a sure thing: two protagonists of the Chicago scene who have known each other very well from different ensembles like Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet, Vandermark 5, Pipeline, or the Frame Quartet (to name a few). But parts of the audience were puzzled in the break between the first and the second set. The music took very unexpected twists and turns, Lonberg-Holm made excessive use of electronics, some people had the impression that the two did not really match that evening. And when they seemed to have found a common ground – they stopped it all of a sudden to move the music in the opposite direction. Not everybody liked that. But isn’t improvised music about the unexpected?

Resistance, the duo’s live recording from 2013, is another example of surprising music. Here it might be easier to follow them on their paths, although the twists and turns can also be found on this recording, for example in “Z=sl”, which starts with Lonberg-Holm playing his cello almost like a bass, adding distortion to the sound, before the track moves into softer regions just to return even more violently. Both instruments are closely interwoven, Vandermark’s tenor climbs along Lonberg-Holm’s textures like vine around the branches.

His cello reminds of twigs snapping in “E=pj”, while Vandermark’s clarinet mourns over these soundscapes. Then Lonberg-Holm shifts the track to new classical music avoiding his brutal electronics completely. Nevertheless the music sounds stressed towards the end which is a result of the fact that Vandermark uses circular breathing in this part.

Resistance is a lucky bag of sounds and ideas: the distorted electric cello reminding of a gloomy Jimi Hendrix while Vandermark changes between clicking sounds and deep, guttural tones that pay tribute to Peter Brötzmann’s style (“I= V/R”), the cello blowing like a locomotive or meandering between fuzz-tone guitar, the cries of monkeys or clean bowed tones that remind of Steve Reich which is juxtaposed by Vandermark’s tenor simply soaring over these sounds, following them blindly singing in his masterful voice when he is left alone on stage (“p=I2r”).

Fred Lonberg-Holm and Ken Vandermark are like a small band on this album, tight, voluminous, ideally matched, often it seems as if the music was pre-composed (but all of it is freely improvised). The music is like a dance between a songbird (cello) and a belling deer (tenor saxophone), sometimes their energy literally collides.

The second set in Weikersheim was more like the music on the album, the audience liked it much better and there were a lot of “bravos” after the last note. But I also liked the first part for its
abruptness and unpredictability.

The album is available on CD, you can buy it from
Or through the Downtown Music Gallery.

Watch them at a show in Chicago here: