ALL ABOUT JAZZ
August 9, 2007
By John Kelman
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 tracks. 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
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
Track listing: Floratone; The Wanderer; Mississippi Rising; The Passenger;
Swamped; Monsoon; Louisiana Lowboat; The Future; Take a Look; Frontiers;
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).