First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2007, Volume 14, #10
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Fri October 26, 2007, 06:40 AM CDT
When does Bill Frisell find time to sleep? He surely is one of the most prolific recording artists alive today. In any given year, he is certain to release at least one solo album as well as a collaboration or two with jazz greats (such as Kenny Wheeler, Ron Carter, or Lee Konitz), to say nothing of his busy schedule playing guitar as a guest on others’ records. In the past year or so, Lucinda Williams’, Rickie Lee Jones’, and Laura Veirs’ albums have all benefited from Frisell’s tasteful and intuitive performances. Throw in a full slate of live dates all over the world, and one has to wonder how he manages to find the energy to do anything at all, much less to maintain such a consistently high caliber of work.
Floratone, Frisell’s newest project, is a collaboration with drummer Matt Chamberlain. Chamberlain — who is best known for his session work with Tori Amos, David Bowie, and the Indigo Girls — had long expressed a desire to work with Frisell. Late in 2005, the opportunity for the two Seattle natives to get together finally presented itself, and their 11-track, eponymous endeavor is the result of their musical explorations.
According to Lee Townsend and Tucker Martine, the producers of Floratone’s self-titled affair, Frisell and Chamberlain jammed in a stream-of-consciousness kind of way, with the tape recorder rolling the whole time. When they had captured many hours of free-form music, they sent the tapes to Townsend, Frisell’s long-time producer, to sculpt the raw material into songs. Working with Martine, whose sessions with Laura Veirs and The Decemberists have earned him a lot of positive press, the pair whittled the extended jams into 18 pieces, which they then sent back to Frisell. At this point, 11 compositions were chosen, and Frisell went to work on finishing them. First, he assigned Victor Krauss, a frequent collaborator, to write bass lines to hold the narrative structure of each piece together. Then, he wrote horn parts to add some dimension, and he enlisted Ron Miles and Eyvind Kang, both of whom had worked extensively with Frisell in the past, to play them. After that, Chamberlain and Frisell went back into the studio to add some melodic elements and overdubs to complete the set. And what an album Floratone has made!
All of the familiar aspects of a Frisell-led project are present on Floratone’s debut. Some cuts sound like a wild, rock ’n‘ roll jam session, with heavy percussion leading the way. Other pieces sound like John Zorn outtakes from the heaviest days of his Naked City period, complete with sinister loops and subterranean metallic sounds. At times, the playing is gentle and ethereal, and just as the listener is in danger of getting lost in a personal reverie, an insistent guitar or percussion effect comes in to upset the daydream. Frisell’s love of traditional music is ever present, and Hillbilly riffs and classic jazz phrases are quoted amidst the din of looped sounds. The overall effect is the creation of a soundscape that manages to evoke the past while simultaneously carving out new sonic possibilities. Throughout each of the tracks on the self-titled disc, the playing is, of course, heavenly. Floratone’s first foray is an album that grows on the listener through repeated hearings. It is brilliant, bold, and challenging, and it is a fine addition to Frisell’s already stellar oeuvre.
Of Further Interest...
Floratone is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box