Fred Lonberg-Holm / Michael Zerang Duo

July 21, 2001
by Micah Holmquist

Venue: The Candlestick Maker, Chicago, Illinois

Percussionist Michael Zerang has made name for himself both for his musicianship and compositional skills and for helping to foster a community of improvisers in Chicago. His latest project in the latter area is running a performance and rehearsal space called the Candlestick Maker.

The Candlestick Maker is located on the Northwest side of the City of Broad Shoulders in a neighborhood that doesn’t lack for places to get falafel. Although there will be occasional concerts, the main intent is for the space to be a recording studio. The confines are certainly cozy enough. The main room has probably less than a 150 square feet and is adorned with posters including one replica map of the “SOWETUNION.” Several rugs take up space on the floor and although their primary purpose most likely has to do with acoustics, they can’t help but make the place feel more comfy and make the location into closest available thing to the lofts that Amiri Baraka described 40 years ago. It should also be noted that while the weather outside was hot and sticky, that the Candlestick Maker was about as seasonable as any place could be without air conditioning or a constantly running fan.

This venue was about half full on July 21 when roughly a dozen and a half people gathered to hear Zerang perform the inaugural show with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. The two created wholly improvised music that was at times nettlesome but on the whole quite enjoyable. Zerang, like the great Paul Lytton, isn’t interested in traditional drum patterns as much as he is in the sounds that can be extracted from various traditional and non-traditional percussion instruments. On this occasion his set up included the parts of a standard kit save for a kick drum but Zerang didn’t use them as such. More often than not, the toms and snare drum was where he placed a bell or some other percussion instrument to be played. Lonberg-Holm is no slouch and is in fact widely considered to be the best cellist in creative improvised music. He plucked and pulled on his instrument using a variety of devices including action figures while at the same time showing the skills needed to make it in the conservatory. Whatever the variations, the music tended to be mid tempo and suitable for deep thinking.

The duo peaked in the final performance as Lonberg-Holm used the propeller of a hand-held fan to both strum his cello and to merely create cool sounds by letting the machine create vibrations within the instrument by placing it at various distances from the cello. Zerang displayed similar attitude by breaking out a vibrator that he used on a variety of struck objects. The full and rich sound of this piece belied the fact that there were only two musicians playing.

The only real complaint associated with the evening was the length. Zerang and Lonberg-Holm performed two sets that were just under 40 minutes long each. That is a lot of great music but not exactly a deal given the $10 being charged at the door. Mitigating this, however, was the fact that the performance began promptly at just after 8 p.m. as opposed to some establishments where regular patrons know that the musicians won’t even have all begun setting up by the stated 9:30 or 10:00 start time. Furthermore, there are few venues in Chicago where listeners can get so close to the music and not have to worry about sitting next to some loud mouth who places drinking and conversations ahead of listening to the music.

Now through August 4, a tremendous line up of performances has been slated to put the Candlestick Maker on the map. Zerang will perform each night with a different cast of musicians save for July 27 when he goes it alone. Some of the other players scheduled to perform include Hamid Drake, Jeff Parker, and Ken Vandermark. You can learn more by visiting Michael Zerang on the web.