There’s Always Room for Cello

Packing your bags for a city halfway across the country is a difficult move for anyone, and especially for a musician who’s spent a decade cultivating contacts and connections. Yet last fall, self-proclaimed “academic wife” Fred Lonberg-Holm did just that, leaving New York for Chicago, following his wife who’s attending grad school at the U. of C. Many musicians would grapple mutely with their sudden outsider status, but in less than a year the 33-year-old experimental cellist has made the transition, quickly infiltrating Chicago’s bustling improv/avant-garde community.

More striking than the rapidity of his assimilation is the stylistic breadth his numerous collaborations cover, and the unabashed glee he exhibits when performing in all of them–whether he’s sculpting delicate solo pieces at more traditional new-music venues like Lunar Cabaret or ripping through the quirky rock-tinged compositions of his new trio at the muggy underground space 6 Odum.

Like many musicians in the postmodern age, Lonberg-Holm dabbles in a cross section of styles–contemporary, classical, jazz, rock, improv. He regards an ad hoc improv session at the Myopic bookstore with as much seriousness as his regular gig in Broken Wire, a quartet with Michael Zerang, Daniel Scanlan, and Jim Baker. Though he never really let himself be restrained by New York’s largely factionalized music scene, Lonberg-Holm praises Chicago’s openness. “There’s a more relaxed attitude among musicians and nonmusicians about going to see music just to check it out,” he says. “There’s a real excitement about booking nights with everything from pop groups to noise duos.”

Lonberg-Holm’s musical sense of adventure was instilled by his parents–a trumpeter and a record collector–in Wilmington, Delaware. He went on to study classical music at Manhattan School of Music and composition with Bunita Marcus at Brooklyn College, but brief informal studies with composer Morton Feldman were equally influential. “To him, everything from his ability to verbal knife fight to his ability to make the finest scrambled eggs in the world–the secret was half on and half off–were all related to his music,” he says of Feldman. He also spent several years studying with saxophonist and composer Anthony Braxton at Oakland’s Mills College. He says his experiences with Feldman and Braxton helped him figure out how to integrate his musical interests.

The results of Lonberg-Holm’s time in New York are evidenced by a number of recent recordings. An American Fantasy (Tellus), a fascinating collaboration with Egyptian-born singer Ahmed El-Motassem, was released last month; he’s made several records with skronk rockers God Is My Co-Pilot; and Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label issued a joint effort with guitarist Alan Licht called the Max Factory. Later in the year Knitting Factory will release the debut of Peep, a terrific klezmer-tinged jazz quartet, and in November Drag City will release a record he made with oddball Cleveland punk vets the Styrenes.

Some of the fruits of his Chicago stay have already appeared as well. Last spring he performed Zerang’s score for the Redmoon Theater’s puppet production of Frankenstein, a recording of which was released on Garlic Records. His newest offering is Personal Scratch, a solo cello recording. It’s a mind-warping display of Lonberg-Holm’s extended technique, which embraces everything from gentle pizzicato runs to discordant smears of bowed sound, from melodic passages to chunks of pure texture. Lonberg-Holm refers to the 15 pieces as “real-time composition” rather than improvisation. “I may not know how I’m going to end a piece,” he says, “but because there’s no one else [playing] to force me into certain situations it’s not really improvised in my mind.”

Lonberg-Holm will celebrate the release of Personal Scratch with a performance Saturday at Lunar Cabaret.


After opening a Ministry concert in Seattle this past May, the Jesus Lizard has been banned from performing in the city. The Seattle fire marshal’s special events office has deemed the band’s colorful front man, David Yow, a “public nuisance” as a result of his infamous stage-diving antics. Following the performance, a Captain Larry Wick began notifying Seattle clubs that if they booked the band they’d be endangering their public assembly permits. The band has been forced to cancel a September gig there, or rather to move it to nearby Olympia. The band and its management are considering legal action….Smashing Pumpkins have been nominated in eight categories for the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards. “Tonight, Tonight” is up for best video of the year, while “1979” has been nominated in the best alternative video category. (An MTV spokesperson could offer no guidance on why one song is “alternative” and the other isn’t.) The other six nominations are in production categories. As of press time the group was still without a replacement for recently fired drummer Jimmy Chamberlin….On Monday Schubas hosts the second annual Buck Owens Birthday Party Tribute. Progressive Nashville singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale will join an impressively varied array of local talent, including Jon Langford, Otis Clay, and Robbie Fulks as well as members of the Insiders and Dolly Varden, to perform songs by the country singer who put Bakersfield on the map. Proceeds go to the local Christmas Is for Kids fund.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Fred Lonberg-Holm (captioned “Takes a Bow”) by Brad Miller.