John Butcher / Fred Lonberg-Holm / Michael Zerang Trio

Chicago Tribune
March 28, 2002
By Howard Reich, Tribune arts critic

What happens when two of Chicago’s most creative avant-garde musicians collaborate with a similarly iconoclastic player from London?

Fireworks ensue.

Better yet, the new threesome produces some of the most provocative, intriguing and musically rewarding improvisations one might hope to encounter on either side of the Atlantic.

Cross-continental ventures are nothing new for Chicago’s experimental players, who often perform with their European counterparts in such venues as the Empty Bottle in Wicker Park, the Velvet Lounge on the South Side and the Chicago Cultural Center in the Loop.

On Tuesday evening, the convergence took place at The Candlestick Maker, Chicago percussionist Michael Zerang’s performance space on North Kedzie. With Chicagoan Fred Lonberg-Holm playing cello and Londoner John Butcher on reeds, the capacity audience heard a music at once complex yet accessible, fearlessly improvised yet meticulously controlled.

What Butcher, Lonberg-Holm and Zerang played was a gently undulating music that subtly moved from one climax to the next, from one texture to another. This was a music so rich in incident and so intricate in instrumental detail as to sound more composed than improvised.

Butcher’s phenomenally virtuosic soprano saxophone work drove the music-making, and he has developed techniques and sonorities that no one else has. Whether he was producing streams of extraordinarily fast-flying notes, creating pitch smears of uncommon expressive power or inventing novel sonic effects that seemed to defy the presumed limitations of the instrument, Butcher hardly could have been a more magnetic soloist.

Yet, for the most part, his lightning figurations were played not as solos but alongside comparably fluid statements from his partners.

Cellist Fred-Lonberg Holm, well known as a versatile Chicago experimenter, outdid himself, playing passages every bit as ornate, original and idiosyncratic as Butcher’s. The fleet scales, bent pitches and pungently dissonant double-stops that are Lonberg-Holm signatures rarely have been articulated at a faster tempo or with a greater range of color and attack.

Zerang’s percussion combined traditional stick technique with novel hand-on-drum effects that drew a surprising breadth of timbre from the standard drum kit.

Together, these players listened keenly to one another, even as each produced a flurry of rapidly articulated notes and rhythmically restless gestures. Somehow, the threesome created a single fabric of sound, but one that constantly changed direction and tone.

Copyright © 2002, Chicago Tribune