2017 / LMB Music
Review by Kathy Parsons
FLOW is the debut album by new age super-group FLOW. The name of the group was formed with a letter from each member’s name - Fiona Joy, Lawrence Blatt, Jeff Oster, and Will Ackerman - each a multi-award-winning artist in his or her own right with well-established musical careers on their own. The group was formed out of long-term friendships and a history of working and playing together over the past eight years. The idea for the group was born in 2015 when Lawrence Blatt invited Fiona Joy and Jeff Oster to his San Francisco home to riff on some musical ideas. Blatt’s original idea was to create an album inspired by the iconic Windham Hill sound. They wanted Will Ackerman to produce the album and in the process of sharing some of their ideas with him, Ackerman became a full-fledged member of the group. Each of the four artists brought ideas for two or three pieces to the group, and then each added parts with the guidance of Ackerman’s production partner at Imaginary Road, Tom Eaton, who became “the fifth Beatle” for the project.
Each artist has a very distinctive sound and it is easy to spot who is doing what on each of the eleven tracks, but I found it fascinating that all four are given composer credits for the entire album. Guest artists include Marc Schulman (guitar), Tony Levin (bass), Jeff Haynes (percussion), Sam Bevan (bass), Eugene Friesen (cello) and Tom Eaton (guitar and bass). I like Jeff Oster’s comment about the purpose of the group: “If you look back into any time of human existence, this need for peaceful breathing and listening has always and will always be deeply important. It’s not only New Age music, it is EVERY AGE music!”
FLOW begins with “Arrival.” A solo piano prelude of sorts, Fiona Joy creates a peaceful setting as the other instruments make their entrances. The pace and spirit of the piece increase as it develops, but it seems to be Jeff Oster’s haunting horn that keeps it grounded and then sends it soaring. Although quite rhythmic, “Whisper Me This” is more ambient and atmospheric with nature sounds in addition to the instruments. The title track includes Fiona Joy’s ethereal wordless vocals and piano, the two guitarists (Blatt and Ackerman), and horn - warm, peaceful perfection. The more ambient “Free Ascent” feels a lot like sitting by a quiet stream, listening to the sounds of birds and the “flow” of the water - tranquil and refreshing. “Waiting For Sunshine” expresses a sense of relaxed well-being. Although it begins with a short horn introduction, “Waters Gather” is mostly piano and cello (Friesen) with guitars and horns adding tonal colors and depth. Darker and more dramatic than most of the tracks, it’s a favorite. “And the Sky Was” makes me think of puffy white clouds gently moving across a bright blue sky. Oster’s muted trumpet and the open, spare guitar are the perfect antidote to the frantic pace and stress of daily life - another favorite. “Tenth Life” keeps Fiona’s voice and piano in the lead with the other instruments (including Friesen’s cello) drifting in and out - dreamy and very soothing. Closing out this excellent album is the exquisite “For Rosita and Giovanni,” a mostly guitar piece with all four of the artists (plus some of the guests) adding their own unique touches while allowing the simple, open guitar melody to sing. If you are still feeling stress or tension, hit the “repeat” button and listen to this music again!
FLOW is a unique project that received a lot of pre-release build-up. Those kinds of albums are often disappointing, but not this one! It is likely to receive many awards and nominations for 2017. The album is available from FLOWthegroup.com, Amazon and iTunes. Very highly recommended!
September 20, 2017