in performance: party knullers

fred-lonberg-holm.

fred-lonberg-holm.

On paper, a duo consisting of cello and drums would seem to dictate at least some kind of mimicry of a conventional rhythm section with cello being a serviceable stand-in for bass. But for that to happen, the musicians involved would have to subscribe to rhythm in the first place. Given the free-form exploits of Party Knullers, the duo of Chicago-based cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and Norwegian percussionist Stxl Solberg, such a point is moot. Their music is no more based on rhythm than their instrumental duties are limited to support duties for other players, as is often the case, even in jazz circles, with a rhythm section.

Last night at Mecca before an audience that was modest in size but strong in terms of attentiveness, Lonberg-Holm and Solberg operated essentially as conversationalists. Sometimes that meant spacious improvisations full of strident exchanges. In other instances, the playing of each artist was complete unto itself with a vocabulary as vast and challenging as the music that fueled the jagged dialogue sections.

That was especially true of Lonberg-Holm. Aided by pedal effects that colored and corroded his playing, as well as a performance style that incorporated unconventional taps, scrapes and phrasings, his improvisations operated with essentially two voices – one organic and one electronically enhanced. Each proved as distinctive as the other. But the most fascinating segments of last night’s concert came during the several occasions when those voices could be differentiated simultaneously. While one couldn’t exactly view these moments as examples of harmony, the sounds did offer a fascinatingly textured make-up that enhanced both the tension and expression of the improvisations.

Though equally inventive his playing, Solberg also possessed a surprisingly exact tone, whether he found various shifts in register within the way he snapped a mallet stick against a drum head or the more assaulting sounds created by scrapping the drums with plastic forks, among many other unexpected as well as obvious percussive devices. For example, there was just as much engagement within the chatter of woodblock and cowbell and even the comparatively expected rattle of a snare.

There were also several instances where the sounds seemed almost otherworldly, like when Lonberg-Holm’s cello elicited a sampler of pedal produced belches and croaks, or when Solberg’s drumming brought these fractured dialogues to a slow but petulant boil.

Additionally, there was space within this music – lots of it. It was so prevalent, in fact, that when the first of six improvisations came to a close, no one in the meager sized crowd applauded. It wasn’t out disinterest and dislike of the concert to that point. Rather, the open-faced structures of these duo performances made it tough to tell when a piece had truly concluded.

But the reverse was true during Gold, a brief finale tune concluding the first set that had Lonberg-Holm switching to guitar. The fanciful, echoing colors he summoned brought the orchestral playing of Bill Frisell to mind.

Just try getting any of that from a rhythm section



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