Collaboration seems to suit Bill Frisell. After two uninspired releases--2003's The Intercontinentals and 2005's Unspeakable--the inimitable guitarist bounced back with three amazing group efforts: two exercises in surrealism with longtime associates Paul Motian and Joe Lovano‚ and a (fairly) straight-ahead jazz album with Motian and über-bassist Ron Carter. Although Floratone is more of a studio creation than I might like‚ the end result is just too much fun to dismiss on technicalities.
Floratone came out of a 2005 jam session between Frisell and ever-versatile drummer Matt Chamberlain (Pearl Jam‚ Brad Mehldau‚ Fiona Apple)‚ a fellow Seattle resident. Chamberlain's explosive drum style is way different than that of Motian‚ who strives to be a ghost in the machine. Frisell responds to Chamberlain's over-stimulus with a nasty‚ unfiltered buzz saw sound that kicks you in the ass and says‚ "That…was an attention-getter!"
After the session‚ Frisell handed the tapes to producers Tucker Martine and Lee Townsend‚ who got out the digital chisel and sculpted the raw tracks into an 11-song set that suggests a Frankenstein-like melding of Wes Montgomery‚ Robert Johnson and the White Stripes. The producers brought in bassist Victor Krauss-another cohort of Frisell's-to anchor the tunes‚ while texture and scope were added with carefully placed contributions from cornetist Ron Miles and violinist/violist Eyvind Kang.
A lot of Floratone is atmospheric‚ but there's lightning in the atmosphere. Your attention stays riveted through "The Wanderer‚" which is a good walk spoiled by encroaching memory. "Mississippi Rising" lays down a chugging swamp groove that rolls over you like a runaway freight train. The funk-jazz "Swamped" and the looped-out "Louisiana Lowboat" take long‚ sweet trips on that same train. Even when things get meditative-on the loping "The Passenger" and the hypnotic "Take a Look"-the aggressive tone never really wanes.
Martine and Townsend share equal billing with Frisell and Chamberlain on the album's cover‚ showing that this matrix is bigger than the usual artist/producer relationship. Of all Frisell's collaborations‚ Floratone may be his most productive. And a productive Bill Frisell is a very good thing.