February 29, 2012
By S.Victor Aaron
Ever since Bill Frisell broke away from his longtime label Nonesuch
and signed up with Savoy Jazz a couple of years ago, we have been
subjected to wave after wave of Frisell releases....
Wait, did I say “subjected” us to a deluge of fresh recordings?
Oh no, over here we welcome every new Frisell offering, especially
since Bill never stays in one place from record to record. He will,
however, revisit ground he’s covered before after some time,
and, well, it’s been nearly five years since Bill Frisell has
made a record with his Floratone cohorts, so guess what? Yep,
that’s right. Next week, the second collaboration among Frisell,
Matt Chamberlain, Lee Townsend and Tucker Martine hits the street.
The first meeting was called Floratone, and the new one is christened
Floratone II. The story and basic concept behind this group goes
like this: Frisell and drummer/percussionist Matt Chamberlain get
together and come up with musical concepts, patterns and basic progressions.
Townsend and Martine come in and take these globs and turn them into
identifiable shapes. They do so by adding textures, mixing, editing
and adding additional accompaniment, such as Kang’s viola and
Ron MIles’ cornet, as in the first record. Mike Elizondo provides
the bass this time and Jon Brion is on keys.
Floratone to Bill Frisell is a lot like what The Fireman is to Paul
McCartney : a way to break outside of usual comfort areas by having
someone else shape the sound and bringing in a musical partner to
bounce ideas off of. As Frisell seems to increasingly favor mid-20th
century Americana motifs of late (and you can still find them on
Floratone II, see “Stand By This”), this project puts
his music sonically back in the present even as the music is instantly
recognizable as a Bill Frisell type record.
“The Bloom Is On” immediately makes clear the touch of
Townsend and Martine, as Frisell’s guitar is looped and dubbed
over to give the song a dreamy, slightly psychedelic character. Miles’ horn
is layered eloquently for “More Pluck” and combines
with Kang’s viola and electronic atmospherics to blend right
in with Frisell’s stinging tones. Mildly suggesting the Spanish
flavors he explored on Lágrimas Mexicanas with Vinicius Cantuaria
last year, “The Time, The Place” is a sweet, gentle piece
that doesn’t even feature Frisell much at all, but rather,
Miles and Kang swapping lines instead.
It might be easy to tune in on Frisell only and his idiosyncratic
guitar mannerisms, but you would be ignoring Chamberlain at your
own risk. Like Frisell, he’s a master of tone, space and placement,
and those abilities show up gloriously on tunes like the swampy groove
of “Snake, Rattle,” the second line wiggle of “Do
You Have It?” and especially the rapid hand percussion that
drives “Move.” He and Frisell create a cool, maddenly
asymmetrical fractured rock rhythm that makes “No Turn Back” such
As with the first Floratone, Frisell cedes some creative control
with guys he trusts, and once again, the trust pays off in a Bill
Frisell record that he couldn’t have quite have done on his
own. Not better nor worse than a proper Frisell record, the appeal
of Floratone II lies in the four different visions, of talented performers
and producers alike, coming together as a single piece of work.