September 2007

Guitarist Bill Frisell changes tack once again with a new jazz-rooted ambient project called Floratone with a drummer and two producers stitching it all together.  Daniel Spicer is curious.

Considering that it’s nearly 40 years since Teo Macero took a bunch of lengthy Miles Davis jams and crafted the concise beauty of In a Silent Way, the Creative presence of producers in jazz is still relatively rare.

Leave it to maverick guitarist Bill Frisell to buck that trend.  His latest project, Floratone, is the self-titled deput album from a new four-piece band with a difference.  Consisting of Frisell, drummer Matt Chamberlain (known for his work with pop-piano songstress Tori Amos, among others) and producers Tucker Martine and Lee Townsend, Floratone is about as far from the live-in-studio experience as it gets.  With all four exercising equal creative input to the album’s ambient soundscapes, effects-laden grooves and atmospheric loops, it’s nothing less than a digital reinvention of Miles and Teo’s groundbreaking experiment.

For Frisell, it’s clearly been a fascinating process to see such a polished product emerge from what began as a series of loose and open-ended jams: “At the beginning it was just Matt and myself playing for quite long periods of time, completely improvising, just letting the tape roll,” says Frisell.  “There was no preconception about anything.  It started completely spontaneous, without any written music at all.  Hopefully that still comes through, that we were just going for it off the top of our heads.” 

This raw material was handed over to Townsend and Martine, who boiled it down to 12 short, punchy tracks, looping and shuffling the basic building blocks as they saw fit.  Finally, Frisell called in some extra talent to give the selections clearer definition, enlisting bassist Viktor Krauss and violin player Eyvind Kang.  Even for a musician with as varied a CV as Frisell, this way of working was something of a departure.  “So many times, my projects happen pretty fast – within a few days.  You play a little bit and then you mix it and that’s it.  This took place over a couple years.”  As Frisell notes: “Floratone is truly an album that was made with democratic decision-making at the forefront.  “But, for all that, the finished result is unmistakably his, dripping with a characteristic love of the American blues tradition.  “That’s kind of the thread that runs through,” he agrees.

“Even from the very first music I ever tried to play on the guitar, when I was a kid, that’s always been there.  It’s the foundation of everything, really.” There are surprises too: “Threadbare is a cavernous journey into the ultimate studio music, dub reggae; and on ‘Louisiana Lowboat,’ Frisell turns out a bouncing homage to guitar hero Wes Montgomery with which he even seems to have caught himself unawares: “He was a gigantic influence on me.  You probably would’t know it from 90 per cent of what I do, but every once in a while something will slip out.”