“Anyone can make a record; doesn’t mean it’s going to be good, but the possibility to do so is there,” laughed multi-instrumentalist and horn player Jeff Oster as he and fellow FLOW bandmate Will Ackerman discussed their latest release.
“I’ve been recording with Will since ’03,” continued Oster. “He has done three of my albums in his studio and I’m his flugelhorn guy if needed. Three years ago I was asked to put a band together and I thought we’ll have Will produce it; so I asked him, and he became part of the group. The whole thing was and is quite organic, as everyone brings their own stuff and we just build the music from there, with each of us adding parts.”
Ackerman, a Grammy Award-winning producer and the founder of Windham Hill Records, shakes his head a bit when he recounts how things all came about. Especially since he thought that he was out of the music business years ago.
“I was with another company and I had signed a three year non-compete agreement; essentially I thought I was done. I wasn’t producing music and I withdrew from the industry because the bureaucracy bothered me. I was doing some things here and there and then I was back into it and then Jeff, Fiona (pianist Joy) and Lawrence (guitarist Blatt) asked me to produce an album and play guitar on it. I had worked with all of them individually and they wanted to bring me into the band. This was threatening at first because I had to exhibit the same faith and trust in trust in them and another producer that they had in me, and at age 68, doing that and learning songs was like a brand new experience. The nice thing about it, though, is that it’s like a grown-up’s sandbox. We just start playing and throw ideas around.”
Now that Ackerman was part of the group, they utilized the services of his co-producer Tom Eaton to aide in the process.
“Tom Eaton has great focus and doesn’t like to add a lot of overdubs,” said Oster. “He said, ‘The four of you have sonic identity,’ and that meant a lot to me because, as a horn player, tone is my thing, I like warm sounds and dynamics.”
Given this great new lineup and a self-titled record, they were presented with the opportunity to perform at the famed Carnegie Hall in New York, in October.
“That gig presented somewhat of a challenge,” laughed Oster. “We had only played together three times, so it took work on our parts to put this together for a live show. So for now, we’re trying to build a live performance around this and see where we go from there.”
Ackerman and Eaton work primarily out of at Imaginary Road Studios in Windham County, Vt.
“Being here, I’m generally staying close to what I know,” says Ackerman. “I’ve got this Steinway piano in my studio and I get this great piano sound. I get clients from all over the world who come to my studio for the piano sound. They’ve come from Malaysia, Japan, South Africa, Germany and all over, and I only do about 10 projects a year. My studio musicians are some of the best around, Jeff, Tony Levin, Steve Holley, Russell Tubbs, Eugene Friesen; these guys are quality players, and with Tom Eaton as a producer, it works.
“The thing is, ego has totally left the equation now. When an artist or someone comes to me and wants to use our services, we offer a unique environment. We gain their trust and loyalty in that order, and throughout the process I state my opinion but the decision is totally theirs. I’ve been involved with something like 27 to 30 platinum records here at Windham so I must’ve done something right (laughs). The most rewarding thing, though, is when people leave here and say that their wildest dreams are small compared to what actually happened while here.”
Oster says that his solo music can probably best be described as “Miles Davis meets Pink Floyd,” but he has a long storied career and even has a Jersey connection as well.
“I have six solo records that are rather melodic,” he stated. with a slight laugh. “I have a couple of different viewpoints on music and music today. I’ll sit in my house with GarageBand, cobble together a few things then ride around, listen to it and come up with some organic line, then take a loop to my guys and start letting each one put in their own parts. I think it makes it less sterile that way. I use very few click tracks, as I’m more old school than most.
“I was in New Jersey not too long ago, I recorded at Jankland Studio near the Shore area and used Nile Rodgers and Bernard Purdie. Those guys are fantastic! I think Bernard did it in one take, and it was perfect.”
With so many irons in the fire, it seems that the band with the acronym name (FLOW stands for Fiona, Lawrence, Oster, Will) may not be coming to a town near you, but they’ve not ruled out a West Coast tour or the occasional one-off gig. They have, however, stated no plans for a second disc.
“The vibe is very positive, but as far as a second record goes, it has not even been discussed,” said Ackerman. “My home and the outlying studio are on a farm here in Vermont. I own 282 acres with turkeys, ducks, chickens, and it keeps me pretty busy. These days I seem to have a chainsaw in my hand more than a guitar and the sound of reverb has been replaced by the sound of tractors. But hey, I’ll never say never.”
Oster echoes those sentiments: “I do my own thing. I have another album coming out at the end of 2018 and I used musicians from around here where I live in the Bay Area. I’d like to tour Europe a bit more as the audiences are more receptive over there.
“FLOW? I’m not sure, because as individuals we are always writing and yet we are so spread out. We’ve not talked about a follow-up record but we certainly haven’t ruled it out.”
For more about FLOW, visit flowthegroup.com.