Travis and Fripp – Follow (2012)

Theo Travis and Robert Fripp improvise, but not in ways that fit the typical narrative. No hothouse, smoke-filled jazz club. No porkpie hats and double-breasted suits. Instead, they’ve more often co-mingled in glacial, cerulean placity — breaking every rule along the way.

Even, it turns out, their own.

Travis, again featured on saxophone and flute, has been working with Fripp for some five years now, a period that includes their 2008 studio debut Thread. He has also appeared as a sideman with Steven Wilson, who is overseeing a tandem series of King Crimson reissues for Fripp. Travis even has his own version of Fripp’s tape-looped ambient tapestries known as Frippertonics, which the saxophonist and flautist has dubbed Ambitronics.

Unfortunately, that kind of familiarity is just as prone to creating comfy stasis as it is a transfixing symbiosis.

Early on, Travis and Fripp seem to have stumbled into the former, as they ease into the delicate quietude of the opening cut “Soaring and Gliding” and then the forboding purple hues of “Dark Clouds” — both of which share a dreamscape texture with so many of their previous collaborations.

Has Follow been aptly named? But faster than you can say “been there, done that,” Travis and Fripp shake all of those preconceived notions right to their girders.

Listen as Travis’ profoundly gorgeous “Hear Our Voices” blends with “1979″ (which features a tape-looped Frippertronics recording from that year), and you’re hearing a physical representation of their two creative forces, both intellectual and technological, combining into something utterly new. The tidal synthesizer washes on “When the Rain Falls” are brilliantly counterweighted by Travis’ bristling stutter on the flute.

“Rotary Symmetrical,” meanwhile, is another matter entirely: As Travis offers a series of smeared, inquisitive sax squeals, Fripp is moved to a monstrously serrated retort. Deeply surprising, it’s just as visceral as the guitarist’s earlier work with Travis has been blissfully unwrinkled. And the grease-popping album-closer “So There” might be the funkiest thing Fripp has ever been associated with.

In this new context, even the return of pastoral soundscapes like “Open Land” and “Return to Saturn” take on new shades of meaning. See, Travis and Fripp haven’t abandoned their initial inspirations, so much as continued to build on them — and that’s sparked the most interesting collaboration yet.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.