Floratone: Floratone
Blue Note

Anyone approaching Floratone's self-titled debut thinking it's Bill Frisell's latest small-group project might want to take a closer look at the release's front cover, as it gives equal prominence to the album's producers (Tucker Martine and Lee Townsend) as it does the primary musical forces (Frisell and drummer Matt Chamberlain). That detail not only says much about the recording's creative process but also ultimately accounts for its relatively underwhelming impression. Rather than a set of live sessions where Frisell and company tear were let loose to collectively tear into material, the album's eleven pieces were born from improvs the guitarist and drummer recorded in Seattle in 2005 that were then shaped by the producers into groove-based settings. All of which may bring Teo Macero and Bitches Brew to mind, but any parallel drawn between that landmark and Floratone ignores the critical fact that there's a huge gulf separating the radical heat of the former and the laid-back, jazz-funk-rock simmer of the latter. Floratone is more like a set of stylistically varied mood pieces that eschews extreme dynamic contrasts and compositional development for atmospheric flow.

Frisell's in good form, as always, but he's hardly stretching himself either. The full range of his playing is captured—atmospherics, classic folk, his twang and occasional Fly-like cry, jagged lines and raw, strangulated tone, et al.—without any of it getting too much out of hand (the raw skronk heard on “The Future” comes close). Chamberlain's a fine drummer too, though on this album at least there's little of the fiery explosiveness Joey Baron brings to Frisell classics like Lookout For Hope and Have A Little Faith. Given his presence throughout, bassist Viktor Krauss gets short shrift in the billing but plays solidly throughout, while cornetist Ron Miles and violin/viola player Eyvind Kang add their distinctive voices to five of the album's eleven tracks. “ Mississippi Rising,” “Monsoon,” and “Louisiana Lowboat” are appropriately swampy and bluesy tracks, while the funky “Swamped” nicely showcases Frisell's jazzier side.

Floratone 's a decent enough Frisell outing, then, but one that hardly belongs in the uppermost tier. Anyone seeking essential Frisell might want to start with Rambler, Before We Were Born, Lookout For Hope, Where In The World?, Have A Little Faith, or Quartet (which features trumpeter Ron Miles in a more prominent role)—all older albums, true, but stronger nonetheless than Floratone.

December 2007