Essential New Music: Stirrup+6’s “The Avondale Addition”

Stirrup has always had a thing for addition. The instrumental trio—bassist Nick Macri, drummer Charles Rumback and cello/electronics/tenor-guitar player Fred Lonberg-Holm—got its start backing up singers James Elkington and Janet Beveridge Bean, and has often welcomed other musicians to sit in for a set or two. But the math gets more complicated on The Avondale Addition.

Not only did Stirrup’s size triple by adding six Midwestern improvisers, but the band created a whole new way of working. Stirrup is a compositional collective, and all three members contributed tunes to this live recording. But Lonberg-Holm is also an inveterate improviser who not only plays in free-music ensembles, but sometimes conducts them using a devise called the lightbox. Facing the musicians, he’ll use the box’s row of bulbs and some handheld signs to shape the otherwise spontaneously generated music.

On The Avondale Addition, he used the lightbox to cue soloists and mold arrangements on the fly. Growling brass and fuzztone guitar add grit to the widescreen drama of “Rodney’s Last Ride,” and a sequence of horn and string solos transform “Salt Lines” from a light-stepping waltz into a soulful reverie. The resulting performance adds sonic colors and stylistic variations to Stirrup’s already appealing melodies. More, in this case, means more.

—Bill Meyer