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  • Jonathan Widran

FLOW, Promise

That’s the thing about promises. They capture our imagination as we’re grounded in the present and turn our attention to hopeful moments in the future. I felt it 2017, when I first heard that veteran composer/musicians Fiona Joy (piano), Lawrence Blatt (guitar), Jeff Oster (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Grammy winning guitarist and Windham Hill founder Will Ackerman were combining their unique individual vibes as FLOW.

Promise was in the musical air, and – capturing the imagination of countless global new age/contemporary instrumental fans – they delivered splendidly on their self-titled debut. The sensual, easily rhythmic tapestry of their combined spirit-transportive sounds translated to great critical acclaim, numerous tour dates (including shows at Carnegie Hall and the Grammy Museum), and Album of the Year honors at both the ZMR Awards and IMA Awards.  

On a personal note beyond those much-deserved accolades, I listened so many times to the 11 tracks on the quartet’s debut that – to use an overtly new agey term – they became one with me. FLOW the album (and the group) became my go-to ease my mind, relax my body jam when I needed to destress. As anticipation built towards the release of their follow-up album, the question was, could they weave the magic again just as wonderfully? Could their collective muses set the instrumental world into a frenzy of dreamy glow once again?

Calling the project PROMISE set up some major expectations, and let’s just say they live up to it magnificently, delivering another gorgeous set full of emotionally compelling statements driven by lush, sweeping melodies and intricately interwoven sonic threads.   

In light of their name and creative aesthetic, I felt that the perfect way to immerse in the experience was to listen straight through without regard for individual titles and breaks between tracks. Then I put it on shuffle so that these ten songs could sweep over and through me however “they” (or the algorithms at Spotify!) chose to. As I was attuning my spirit to the current FLOW, memories of FLOW #1 flooded through, and there was the realization that Fiona, Lawrence, Oster and Will simply picked up the seamless soul conversations where they left off.

That said, just as last time, there are some individual favorites that inspire the most repeated listening. Allow yourself to be seduced and hypnotized first by “Something on Tuesday.” It begins with a stark guitar strum before Oster wafts in and Fiona brings the angelic grace of her lighthearted piano melody to the fore, which then weaves into a delightful, dizzying dance with the horn. The second part of the tune strips back down to the start guitar line, completing the most compelling second day of the week musical adventure since The Moody Blues’ “Tuesday Afternoon.”

Sometimes our crazy lives put us “Adrift at Sea,” but FLOW has a soothing cure for that feeling of being lost. A hypnotic percussion line underscores the track’s sensual piano/guitar driven beauty, with Oster’s horn frothing to the top. Two thirds of the way through the tune, the “flow” changes into pure oceanic atmosphere, complete with crashing waves, gulls and that heavenly horn ambience. Another favorite, purely from an appreciation for a sudden shift in tone midway through is “Last Light.” The first few minutes is stark, expansive spa music, and then the groove, the strum, the jazzy flugelhorn jump in and latch onto your tapping toes. In a split second, it evolves from ambient new age to something glorious bordering on exotic world music.

For those seeking more consistency within a single track, “Blue Umbrella” keeps its the tender, angelic hues as guitars continue to sparkle and horn riffs and piano breeze in here and there. Ditto the dramatic, classically influenced closing number “Memoire du Dome,” driven by Fiona’s stunning, contemplative ivory “flow” (can’t escape that descriptor ever with these guys!) and Oster’s weightless super-melodic cool. And of course, everything we hear goes back to that “Promise” the group made from the get go. The opening title track has it all – easy hypnotic guitar lines, elegant piano and trumpet riffs, a touch of percussive exotica and an easy groove that draws us in to the many fulfilled promises that follow.

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