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Bill Frisell / Matt Chamberlain / Lee Townsend / Tucker Martine: Floratone

John Kelman By

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The role of producer can range from bean counter and clock watcher to active musical participant, involved with details of arrangement and instrumentation. Still, it's almost unprecedented to see a collaborative group that lists not one, but two producers as actual band members. Even Teo Macero, who during Miles Davis' electric period, used innovative editing techniques to shape Miles' music into cogent form, was never listed as anything other than producer. In the case of Floratone, guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Matt Chamberlain give producers Lee Townsend and Tucker Martine equal billing and compositional co-credit.

Given the way the recording came about, it's only fair. Beginning as a series of in-studio jams between Frisell and Chamberlain, the tapes were then turned over to Townsend and Martine, who shaped the material into delineated songs through complex editing, looping, and processing. In this state of semi-completion Frisell and Chamberlain headed back into the studio. Viktor Krauss was invited to play bass on all the tracks, with Frisell writing parts for cornetist Ron Miles and violinist/violist Eyvind Kang, who play on five of Floratone's eleven tunes. At the same time, Frisell and Chamberlain added more guitar and percussion layers to finally, after two years, bring the project to completion.

Call it Ambient Americana Sound Sculpting or, as Townsend has said, "futuristic roots music." The music on Floratone is largely based around Chamberlain's behind-the-beat grooves and Frisell's left-of-center blues-drenched chords and phrases. While changes don't figure much, Frisell's inherently skewed lyricism creates instantly memorable melodies. As is often the case with Frisell, it's not about soloing per se; rather it's about collective interpretation—and Frisell's ability to work simple ideas, exploring all possible nuances.

Still, it's not about endless vamps and layered melodies. Townsend and Martine mould the laidback groove of "The Wanderer," with Miles and Kang's equally relaxed theme, segueing it into an ethereal middle section not far-removed aesthetically from the opening to "Shhh/Peaceful" on Miles Davis' classic In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969). Frisell and Chamberlain's groove ultimately reasserts itself, but this time through a cloud of atmospherics as the piece draws to a close.

Floratone shares much, in fact, with Macero's collage-like approach to sculpting In a Silent Way, though with modern digital editing the integration is so seamless that it's often impossible to differentiate between live performance and studio construction.

Not that it matters. The greatest success of Floratone is how organic, how natural the music sounds, the considerable technology behind it notwithstanding. Despite all the electronic textures used from conception to final realization, it's a distinctive, extremely appealing and visual collection of sonic landscapes.

There are those who believe that democratic/leaderless projects are inherently doomed to failure. Floratone is a modern masterpiece—a completely equitable collaboration between Frisell, Chamberlain, Townsend and Martine—that lays such claims to waste.


Track Listing: Floratone; The Wanderer; Mississippi Rising; The Passenger; Swamped; Monsoon; Louisiana Lowboat; The Future; Take a Look; Frontiers; Threadbare.

Personnel: Bill Frisell: electric and acoustic guitars, loops; Matt Chamberlain: drums, percussion, loops; Tucker Martine: producer; Lee Townsend: producer. With guests: Viktor Krauss: acoustic and electric bass; Ron Miles: cornet (1-3, 7, 8); Eyvind Kang: violin and viola (1-3, 7, 8).

Title: Floratone | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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