Fred Lonberg-Holm's Fast Citizens - "Lazy Days" (Gather)
A sextet founded on the democratic concept of revolving leadership, Chicago-based Fast Citizens is an improvising cooperative in the finest connotation of the phrase. For Gather, their third Delmark disc, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm takes the wheelhouse, devising five of the seven compositions and steering the band with prog, noise and contemporary classical proclivities stronger in the mix, although with arguably mixed results. Jazz forms remain at the crux of much of the music-making and Lonberg-Holm’s sound palette for the pieces is quite broad with Aram Shelton and Keefe Jackson (previous Fast Citizens field marshals) covering a pair of reeds apiece between them. The leader doubles on tenor guitar and on the ambitious if somewhat nebulous Jackson-penned closer “Roses” all six musicians play some trumpet variant with Berman being the only one among them who counts brass as his main instrument. The other tracks are almost evenly split between guitar and cello, making the disc a unique entry in the labyrinthine Lonberg-Holm discography and a departure from the band’s earlier efforts.
All seven pieces are fitted amply with the sort of episodic and eclectic interplay Lonberg-Holm and his colleagues are known for though they also rely on audible logic to help justify their uniformly lengthy durations. A fugue-like opening on “Lazy Days” contructed from ominously twining legato horn lines and a stout, pendulum-swinging ostinato from bassist Anton Hatwich gives way to a duet between the leader and Shelton’s burbling clarinet. Drummer Frank Rosaly deftly takes over the time-keeping duties from Hatwich in the final minute with finely sequenced cymbal accents.
The program’s pair of prog-colored numbers are where the above argument of mixed results gains the most traction. “Faster, Citizens! Kill! Kill!” carries a clever title, but the wit doesn’t translate entirely to the collective sounds and Lonberg-Holm’s granulated guitar riffs which gird the piece come across as kind of generic in comparison to what he’s capable of on cello. The earlier “Later News” is similarly mired in dated guitar parts that end up sounding like Lou Reed at his most early-Eighties indulgent and a succession of staid rock beats that Rosaly could carry out in his sleep. “Simpler Days” finds the leader mining craggy single notes and spiny chord fragments to better effect as a canvas for spirited solos by Berman and Jackson on cornet and bass clarinet respectively.
Lonberg-Holm works his most concentrated and consistent magic with cello as during the opening “Infra-Pass” where his tensile pizzicato pattern mirrors and bolsters an already mammoth walking bass vamp by Hatwich before he fires up the peizos and spirals off into wall of splintering noise. The piece eventually explodes into a signature string-rending arco display backed by a robust rolling rhythm from Hatwich and Rosaly, Berman, Jackson and Shelton riffing sharply in the cracks with several more heated detours to follow. The knotted cello contortions carry over into Shelton’s “It’s a Tough Grid” grappling with Berman’s brassy smears as a stark contrast to the rich ensemble harmonies and show-stopping solos from Hatwich, Shelton and Jackson that ensue after. The disc’s extended duration and Lonberg-Holm’s decision to cede aural real estate to his guitar at the expense of his primary instrument make it a less than perfect outing, but with three members yet to take their respective turns in the leader slot on record, Fast Citizens is far from a finished entity as an ensemble of note.