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Binkelman's Corner by Bill Binkelman
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By FLOW (Will Ackerman, Fiona Joy, Lawrence Blatt & Jeff Oster)
Label: LMB Music
Released 10/6/2017
FLOW tracks
1. Arrival
2. Whisper Me This
3. Flow
4. Free Ascent
5. Waiting for Sunshine
6. Waters Gather
7. And the Sky Was
8. A Night in Nocelle
9. Tenth Life
10. Rest Now My Friend
11. For Rosita & Giovanni
Having cut my rock musical teeth, so to speak, in the late '60s and early '70s, I listened to my fair share of supergroup recordings: Cream (and later Blind Faith), Emerson, Lake and Palmer, King Crimson, West, Bruce and Laing, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Bad Company, and others. As a result, I know that the path of the supergroup is fraught with several challenges, such as clashing egos, clashing artistic visions, and "one and done" fixation (a la Blind Faith, for example). I had no such fear when I heard that pianist Fiona Joy, guitarists Lawrence Blatt and Will Ackerman, and flugelhorn maestro Jeff Oster were forming FLOW (Fiona, Lawrence, Oster, and Will). Having met these folks in person, I was confident that their relationship in the studio would be symbiotic and yield some delicious musical treats for the listeners. I was curious what they would "sound" like, not so much because their individual styles are vastly different, but more "what would they come up?"

FLOW is basically classic, emphasis on the word "classic," contemporary Windham Hill (yeah, technically, Windham Hill is gone, I know). With the god knows how many albums Ackerman with studio wunderkind Tom Eaton have recorded and produced and engineered at (the now established Mecca of this genre of music) Imaginary Road Studios, if you bought FLOW expecting otherwise, you have some weird expectations. As if combining these top-flight musicians wasn't enough talent on one disk, they brought along some friends too. Talk about stacking the deck: bassists Tony Levin and Sam Bevan, cellist Eugene Friesen, percussionist Jeff Haynes, guitarist Marc Shulman, and Eaton played guitar and bass, too.

While some folks step into the spotlight now and then (check out Blatt's ambient-blues electric guitar work on "Free Ascent"), a lot of the tunes feature a true ensemble sound. Which is why it's important to note how well these folks complement each other. "Waiting for Sunshine" with its breezy nod to jazz is a perfect example of this as guitars, piano, flugelhorn and percussion all meld into a stunningly gorgeous track. On "Waters Gather," Fiona Joy shares the lead role with Oster and the two (with some great work by Friesen as well) craft one of the more hauntingly beautiful yet somber songs I've heard in a while. "And the Sky Was" is a return to a more collaborative effort and the delicate interplay of guitar, piano, and horn is magical and transfixing.

While there is energy present on FLOW, the overall mood is more reflective—not necessarily somber, though. "Rest Now My Friend" is tinted with a subtle degree of sorrow, but it is a warm sorrow, and not painful. "Tenth Life" opens quietly and builds to a small degree of drama, but not to the point of the music saying "HEAR ME!" The closing song, "For Rosita & Giovanni," gives the guitarists their moment in the sun, as they do a slow pirouette before piano and flugelhorn slide gracefully in beside them. I'd describe the mood here as being something between somber and gently romantic.

Look, being honest, FLOW doesn't need me telling you how good it is. The only way a meeting of these four musical minds could be bad is they covered songs by the Archies, KC & the Sunshine Band, and the 1910 Fruitgum Company. I would've been shocked if these cats produced anything but brilliance—and that's what FLOW is. Brilliant.
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 1/30/2018
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