Forty years after Windham Hill became a catalyst for the global musical phenomenon, its bountiful legacy of best-selling solo works (George Winston, Liz Story, Alex DeGrassi, Michael Hedges) and Grammy winning ensembles (Shadowfax) – extends into a truly new age with FLOW – a new four-piece ensemble comprised of Ackerman and three of today’s most acclaimed independent award-winning artists, Australian pianist Fiona Joy, acoustic guitarist Lawrence Blatt and flugelhorn master Jeff Oster.
Formed out of mutual and collective long-term friendships and a history of working and playing together over the past eight years, FLOW is not only an unusual anagram of their names (Fiona, Lawrence, Oster, Will) but also reflects the foursome’s fresh international new age sound and the graceful atmospheric and rhythmic ease with which each of the 11 tracks streams into the next.
As officially announced, the concept of FLOW had its origins in 2015, when Blatt invited Fiona and Oster to join him at Imaginary Road to create an album inspired by the iconic Windham Hill sound and ensembles. Ackerman had already produced several of Fiona Joy's and Oster’s albums plus Blatt’s recordings The Color of Sunshine, Emergence, and Latitudes and ongitudes featuring Oster on horn; Blatt and Fiona met while recording a special project on Blue Coast Music.
One of the unique dynamics inherent in the quartet involves the individual roles played by Ackerman and Blatt’s acoustic guitars. Both have deep melodic sensibilities but Ackerman’s forte is starkness, space and introspection while Blatt’s vibe is driven by rhythm. The ambient track “Free Ascent” offers a perfect example of how they can co-exist on different parts of a track to create different emotional textures. The meditative “And The Sky Was” finds Blatt’s guitar flowing thoughtfully over Fiona’s piano as Oster’s muted trumpet provides harmonic echoes; Ackerman’s strings provide gentle color and his incidental “scrapes” on them are unmistakable.
One of Ackerman’s favorite pieces on the album is the folky, easy loping “Waiting For Sunshine,” which came about spontaneously as the two were doing an hours long photo shoot for the album. They were sitting outside in the rain and getting very tired. Blatt started playing a seductive chord pattern, and Ackerman grabbed his guitar and started playing a lead melody. The four built upon those foundations during their subsequent days in the studio.
“All of this was a fascinating learning process,” Blatt says. “When you have two acoustic guitars, you have to find space for both of them to make sure they’re not doing the same thing. When you try fingerpicking melodic lines, it doesn’t work. Will and I had to find a place for us to exist together. On the two songs Will wrote, I switched to nylon string so I wouldn’t collide with him.”
Another compelling feature of FLOW’s music is the way their songs often ease from ambient to rhythmic and back again, a true reflection of life’s mix of frenzied chaos and peaceful transcendence. The opening track “Arrival” opens with Fiona’s gentle melody, which slowly gains momentum and groove as Oster, Ackerman and Blatt join in. It reaches a crescendo and ends in piano/flugelhorn contemplation. “Rumors and Whispers” opens with Oster wafting above a soft atmospheric soundscape before Jeff Haynes’ locomotive percussion kicks in, giving ground to Blatt’s sliding electric guitar. The piece then reverts back into quiet starkness with Ackerman’s ambient guitar, and then, after what Oster calls “Pink Floydish sounds landing on a lotus flower,” it picks up with a four on the floor outro.
Other highlights are the classically tinged “Waters Gather” (featuring the dual hypnosis of Fiona’s ivories and Eugene Friesen’s cello) and the hypnotic elegy “Rest Now My Friend” featuring guest guitarist Mark Schulman, otherworldly Eastern Indian Flavors and Fiona’s gentle choral vocals.
For information on their upcoming tour, please visit: https://www.flowthegroup.com/thearrivaltour/