Jazz guitarist Bill Frisell mixes it up with Floratone project

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Recording an album is generally a pretty straightforward process -- you gather musicians in a room and capture what comes out. Jazz guitarist Bill Frisell switched things up with his project Floratone, a multilayered mix of improvisation and editing with drummer Matt Chamberlain and two of Frisell’s longtime collaborators in producers Lee Townsend and Tucker Martine.

Also featuring L.A.’s Jon Brion and trumpeter Ron Miles, the group just released its second album in ‘Floratone II.’ An shadowy, immersive listen, the album can sound funky, driving or atmospheric, and as many surprises as it may have for the listener, it can be just as surprising for Frisell, who handed off much of its construction to Townsend and Martine.

In 30 years of recording, Frisell has freely incorporated electronics, rustic folk, country and global sounds into diverse albums such as ‘Nashville,’ ‘The Intercontinentals’ and ‘Lágrimas Mexicanas,’ a pairing with Brazil’s Vinicius Cantuaria that was one of three albums Frisell released in 2011. Opening a line-up that also features the Billy Childs and Kronos quartets, Frisell will appear Sunday at Disney Hall with his Beautiful Dreamers ensemble, a trio with violist Eyvind Kang and drummer Rudy Royston.

Speaking by phone from Tokyo earlier this week while touring with Cantuaria, Frisell talks about his new album and his eclectic approach to music.


I understand the first Floratone album came together in a mix of playing live and editing. Is that how this one worked too? It was the same process, but maybe even more drawn out and extreme. I guess not so much for Matt [Chamberlain] and I because. . . we just go in the studio and whatever comes into our heads we start playing. It’s so much fun, we don’t have any agenda. So Matt and I just play and play, and it doesn’t take long to accumulate hours of stuff like that. Then we leave Lee and Tucker with all that material, and they make all these decisions about what they think is cool. They’ll find little segments that work as complete songs -- I don’t even know because I wasn’t there for that process on either album. So they get it into a manageable, hour’s worth of stuff. I guess it’s like a filmmaker would do with hours of footage and they edit it down to a movie.

So that was one stage, and maybe I went back again and played more guitar, then Matt did some other stuff. Then they went to L.A. and added Mike Elizondo on bass and John Brion on keyboards, then Matt did some more stuff, and they mixed it. So basically I heard it a couple months ago for the first time, and it was kind of amazing. A much different process than if I’m doing an album, for sure. I don’t have to worry, I just give over these responsibilities where if it was my record I’d be sweating and worrying about any little thing.

Is there any way to take this kind of project on the road?

No. Music for me, it just doesn’t work that way. For one thing it would just take an unbelievable amount of work to sort it out and figure out how to redo it. And for me ... the whole initial energy of the thing wouldn’t even be there anymore.

Whenever I do a recording, most of my records are closer to being a documentation of what a group sounds like. You’re catching this moment. Like this Beautiful Dreamers band, when we did that album it was just at the beginning of that group. Since then, we don’t play the album. We play some of those songs, but I’m depending on the songs changing every time we play.

Seeing you live you usually have a bank of electronics and interesting toys to compliment your sound, but the Beautiful Dreamers record didn’t have as much of that. Was that a conscious choice?

It just sort of happened that way. Like when we play live Eyvind uses a lot more pedals – that’s the thing, [the music] doesn’t really stay in one zone, even within one night. We can play very stripped-down acoustically or it can get sort of overkill electronic too. The temptation [during recording] could’ve been “Why don’t we overdub five violas on this and I’ll put bass on this,” and all that. But I wanted to really stick with the sound of us playing in a room. That was really important to me.

You have this area you’ve been working for a number of years that’s this mix of jazz,Americana, folk -- a number of different genres. Do you draw a distinction between any of them?

In my mind, music is just all there all at the same time. We spend so much time trying to divide it up or categorize. I won’t say I don’t do it -- at home I have jazz CDs in one pile and classical CDs in another pile. But in my imagination the music can all be there. There’s that pile and this other pile, but they’re all in the same room. I don’t want to hear just one thing.

With such a wide variety of projects over your career, is there anything nagging at you that you don’t think you’ve tried yet?

(Laughs) Well that’s the thing, I never even have to think much. It’s incredible, with music every day I wake up and there’s always something immediately there that leads you to something else. It’s amazing. I don’t have any plan, it just seems to take care of itself.


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-- Chris Barton