Will Ackerman has never exactly gone with the flow during his length career in jazz and New Age music. But now he's going with FLOW, a new all-star group whose self-titled debut album comes out Oct. 6 -- including the track "Free Ascent," which is premiering exclusively below.
FLOW is an acronym for its band members -- singer-pianist Fiona Joy, guitarist Lawrence Blatt, flugelhornist Jeff Oster and Ackerman. The Windham Hill founder was initially approached by Blatt to produce an album for the trio and was eventually recruited into the fold as writing commenced. "It was kind of a surprise to me when they said, 'Why don't we go from FLO to FLOW and add Will to the thing,'" Ackerman tells Billboard. Blatt says growing into a quartet was an organic process once he, Joy and Oster began working on the album.
"Basically we really had to adjust our style and playing to form a group, rather than what we did solo," Blatt explains. "Then we started thinking about doing this and what we needed more of, and what we need more of was, we believed, another guitar. Will had produced albums for all of us over a number of years and had also played on our albums. It just made sense to ask Will to join us and be a member."
The FLOW album was recorded during three different sessions at Ackerman's Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont, and Blatt considers it crucial that the four musicians were there at the same time rather than exchanging tracks with each other. "That's really where the magic was, when we were all together," he says. "If we had recorded this with Fiona in Australia or gone in individually to the studio, I don't think it would've worked. The magic was we were literally all together, in some cases recording several parts at the same time in the studio." It also allowed FLOW to operate in a group mindset, which came as a bit of a surprise to Ackerman.
"Originally I thought it would be these four people bringing three pieces each and the other people would sprinkle their fairy dust over it, but it would be identifiably the writing of those individual players," he says. "Part of my job (as a producer) is making people nervous, trying to push people somewhere that gets them out of their comfort level. I realized this sucker was working when I started being really nervous, when I started to realize, 'Wait a minute, this isn't MY song anymore.' What I was watching was this going into the DNA of a song and literally changing it. It became something I hadn't envisioned, that this indeed was going to be a synthesis of four different players to create something we couldn't create individually. That was a moment of revelation, and I think that's why it works." Not that it all, er, flowed smoothly, mind you.
"To be honest there were times when there was a knocking of heads," Ackerman says. "I don't mean screaming arguments but there was some knocking of heads going on, and that wouldn't have happened, either, if we weren't together in the studio like we were."
Also key to FLOW is the guitar interplay between Ackerman and Blatt, two different players who for FLOW learned to complement each other. "Maybe in broad strokes, Lawrence has more rhythm in what he does, generally speaking, whereas my stuff is more pensive and more open," Ackerman says. "We did gain two very different approaches to the guitar in the quartet, and (Blatt) really drove me. It's something I never had recorded in my life. Blatt adds that, "I think we both agree that I certainly can't do the things Will does, and I think together we make an interesting combination."
FLOW will celebrate the album's release also on Oct. 6 at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The group is mulling over more shows for the future. Ackerman and Blatt also consider this the launch of a going concern, though they and their FLOW mates plan to continue their own careers as well. "If you have this much fun, you want to do it again," Ackerman says. "I think we're all so relaxed with each other and know each other's styles so well it feels to me it's really going to come into easy focus for us. It's a really natural thing."