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. This was to be expected, though, as his departure from Nonesuch had a lot to do with being held back by the label from releasing material at a rate that more closely matches his extreme productivity. So much so, we’ve struggled to keep up with it here lately. During this short time span, Frisell has dabbled in Latin music, convened an all-string quartet, reunited with violist Eyvind Kang and feted John Lennon with a set of all Lennon covers.
Wait, did I say “subjected” us to 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 he’s 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 is laid out in my 2007 examination of the first Floratone but the Cliff notes 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” (YouTube below) 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 fun.
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.
Floratone II goes on sale March 6 by Savoy Jazz.