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Flow

Live in Seattle, Washington May 2018

Review by Mark Johnson

It was a rare warm May evening in Columbia City, near downtown Seattle, when my wife and I walked through the door at the Royal Room, to take in our first ever Flow show.

The room was full, like the moon that decorated a wall of the showplace. Over a hundred fans were in attendance, so the word had gotten out that this was a show not be missed - the recently minted band Flow (named after the band members: Fiona Joy Hawkins [Australia’s “Enya” on piano and voice], Jeff Oster [master of the flugelhorn and trumpet and truly a great Chuck Mangione–like master], Will Ackerman [one of new age’s seminal musical composers, producers and directors on guitar], and Lawrence Blatt on acoustic and electric guitar, and ukulele).

In early 2015 Blatt invited Hawkins and Oster to join him at Ackerman’s Imaginary Road Studios to create an album inspired by the iconic Windham Hill ensembles. Once recording began it became clear that Ackerman could be an essential part of this group as an artist as well as producer. When invited, Ackerman was happy to join the others and Flow was born. It’s a new age group formed out of friendship and a history of working and playing together over eight years. 

The band put on a magical show. It was full of quiet acoustic songs, some trumpet and flugelhorn masterpieces, plenty of personal stories about how the music was made and how the band was brought together. Some of the best and most emotional drumming I have ever heard was added to that mix by percussionist extraordinaire Jeff Haynes.

Thankfully, Hawkins provided a copy of the show’s playlist, so I could concentrate on the soft and intricate sound of the singing and instrumentation.

The concert opened with introductions and the story of the how the band formed from Ackerman. They followed with one of the best songs off their debut album “Rest Now My Friend." The song is full of rich acoustic guitar and Hawkins’ backing vocal whispers, with plenty of brass lightning highlighting the soundscape. Blatt joined Ackerman on acoustic guitar for a duet. It was a very quiet and comforting song to open the set.


Mark Johnson
     

“Waters Gather," another track off the new album followed with a brass led intro from Oster and Hawkins’ beautiful piano notes following. Then Todd Boston played the guitar-viol, filling the soundscape. Deep bass rounded out the music. A regal song, it is perfect for the song’s namesake.

“Unconditional," a song from Ackerman’s huge catalog of albums (this one specifically from The Sound of Wind Driven Rain) (with a passionate spoken introduction by Ackerman) was one of the show’s highlights. It was beautiful, with steely acoustic guitar filling the air as Ackerman played on.

“For Rosita and Giovanni," from the new Flow album followed. Ackerman’s acoustic guitar with support from Blatt opened this warm song full of heart. Oster’s trumpet pumped out a soothing melody along with Hawkins’s piano and soft percussion from Haynes. It's a wonderful song bringing all the band together for the final cut on their debut release.

“Hawk Circle” (another classic from Ackerman’s catalogue) was next on the set. Usually Ackerman is accompanied by pianist George Winston (who co-wrote the song). He has also played the song with guitarist extraordinaire Michael Hedges. However, for this show, Todd Boston played guitar with Ackerman.


Mark Johnson
 
Mark Johnson
   

“Invisible Train” (an Ackerman produced, Hawkins’ song [from her Signature – Synchronicity album]) was another of my favorite songs from the set. Hawkins introduced the song (which included inspired percussion from Haynes in the original and live performance). Tom Eaton played deep bass guitar.

“Waiting for the Sunshine” closed the first half of the show. It is another of the best tracks off the Flow studio album. It  includes the participation of all the band members along with Haynes.

After a short intermission, the band was back with the second set of music. Hawkins was filming a live feed of the show from her phone on Facebook for fans.

They opened the set with “Celtic Heart” from Boston’s Touched by the Sun album. The song is full of deep cello and beautiful soft acoustic guitar duets. It also included great percussion work from Haynes.

The band followed that stirring rendition with “Tenth Life," off of the Flow album. Hawkins’ soft vocal whispers and piano filled the air with Oster’s soft trumpet, and cellos augmenting the soundscape. Boston also enhanced the arrangement with the guitar-viol.

“Contemplating” (from Hawkins’ Blue Dream album) was up next. It featured beautiful contemplative piano and Hawkins’ soft voice with acoustic guitar and gentle percussion supporting. It was wonderful. “And the Sky Was" was the next song played off the Flow album. Soft trumpet from Oster mixed well with piano and acoustic guitar. Cool percussion supported that mix.

“Impending Death of the Virgin Spirit" (an Ackerman tour-de-force acoustic guitar classic) just transfixed the audience completely. Deep cellos at slow pace and soft acoustic guitar brought the real feeling of the “Last Day at the Beach” for the season, to the Royal Room crowd.

“Hyde Park Bench” (from Blatt’s Longitudes and Latitudes album) was a wonderful acoustic guitar escape filled with soft trumpet from Oster. Oster also did a wonderful Mangione–like improv that completely held the audience spellbound.


Mark Johnson
 
Mark Johnson
   

The band played “Open Fields and Running Water” (another song off of Blatt’s Longitudes and Latitudes album). It was performed softly with acoustic guitar, Oster’s trumpet and encapsulated with warm percussion from Haynes.

“Flow’ is the title track from the group's debut album. The band showcased it well near the concert’s close. It was given the time and essential space to fill the room with comfort.

For the encore, they played “Free Ascent” off of the new album. It is another of my favorite album tracks. The song is full of birdsong and soft trumpet at the opening, like the first day of spring. The acoustic guitar and soft piano creates a mood of unparalleled freedom and even flight.

This was an excellent show and introduction to a wealth of new age music which I had not heard before. The devoted fans never left the show and waited for every drop of sound, down to the last key, note and sound of the trumpet.  It was an excellent night and one I am so proud to cover and to have been invited to celebrate.

Catch Flow next time they visit your town, and please get the debut album so you can be a part of the future of this dynamic quartet.


Mark Johnson
       
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.
You'll find concert pics of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
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