The Grammy winner next door
Will Ackerman and FLOW performing at Next Stage
PUTNEY— Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman relishes the idea that when he goes into Brown & Roberts Hardware, the employees treat him just like any other local resident who is coming in to get their blades sharpened and pick up some 16-penny nails, rather than an acclaimed guitarist who's won Grammy awards and started a successful record label.
It's definitely one of the reasons he enjoys living in southern Vermont.
"Vermont really doesn't give a damn about the trappings of fame. My life is wonderfully varied. I'm happiest that music is seen as just one aspect of me," he said.
Ackerman is also one of four members in the New Age ensemble FLOW, and the group — named with an acronym representing the names of its four members — will perform at Next Stage Arts next Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
It's one of two of the group's shows next week. The second? New York's Carnegie Hall, on Friday night.
FLOW just released their second CD called, "Promise" (LMB Music, 2019), recorded at Ackerman's Imaginary Road Studios and produced by Ackerman and Tom Eaton. Their first CD, self-titled "FLOW" (LMB Music, 2017) won Album of the Year at both the ZMR Awards in New Orleans and the Independent Music Awards at Lincoln Center in New York.
The group is made up of four musicians who each have their own music careers and are part of the contemporary New Age genre. In addition to Ackerman, its members include Fiona Joy Hawkins on piano, Lawrence Blatt on accoustic guitar, and Jeff Oster on flugelhorn.
The group came together out of friendship, a shared recording history and a passion for playing live and touring.
In a conversation at Imaginary Road Studios on a picture perfect late summer day, Ackerman talked about the group, their new CD, the songwriting process, and his love of southern Vermont.
"We know each other better now so we were thinking of the ensemble," he said of the new album. "You anticipate what it would sound like. We sense immediately that a certain song will work when everyone is running into the studio and grabbing their instruments to play. It was exhilarating!"
The album was made in four days. That's unheard of in recording circles.
Ackerman knew the three other artists, as each had asked him to produce their records individually. "Now I consider them some of the closest friends on the planet," he said. "Jeff Oster is the friendship of my adult life."
When asked what surprised him most about this group, Ackerman said, "I get to play lead guitar at age 70. I find it greatly inspirational. I'm grateful to Lawrence for that."
The band name is more than a clever invention — it reflects the chemistry the four members have developed in the studio and on stage.
"When you have four musicians who know each other and trust each other it frees you up," Ackerman said. "My best music is done without thinking; it is utterly in the moment, which is the only way I can write."
Oster, who plays trumpet and flugelhorn and lives in Chester and in Alameda, Calif., has been described as "Miles Davis meets Pink Floyd."
"FLOW is more than just (four) individual artists," he said. "The group interplay and creativity got more natural and refined when we recorded our second CD. An unintentional smile came over our faces in the studio, as it started to sound like one sound again; it was palpable and natural."
Hawkins, an Australian pianist, composer and singer, sent an email from her tiny village of 800 in Australia.
"The first album felt like a great fit in terms of how we think musically but was a discovery of sorts as we had no idea how the recording process would play out," Hawkins said. "The new album 'Promise' was a whole different thing. We arrived in the studio with the group and instrumentation in mind and the music happened so easily, as if we were all thinking in exactly the same direction."
"We didn't question the writing process, it was so natural and organic that it scared me," Hawkins added. "The truth is, it's just too good not to chase. Musicians live for musical magic and this group and album is magic."
That makes touring rewarding, musically and personally, she said.
"There is always a lot of laughing and FLOW feels like family to me," Hawkins said. "On stage, when we get in the zone, again, it's magic. We have a great support team around us as well so it's very much a team effort."
Blatt, an award-winning recording artist, composer and producer, combines classical guitar and modern steel-string acoustic guitar techniques.
"We are so excited as touring gives us a chance to bring our music to the world," he said of the group's upcoming shows."Nothing can take the place of musicians interacting. The immediacy of live performance is both inspirational and a little bit of a tightrope.
"No two shows are the same, and you never really know what might happen. We are looking forward to our debut at the Next Stage Arts and our return to Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City."
Blatt said "Promise" marked an evolution for the group.
"We have become even more comfortable playing live together and working in the studio," he said. This is not an album of solos, but rather the growth of a group in composing, recording and performance. We are very proud of 'Promise.'"
Ackerman thoroughly enjoys working with Blatt.
"The toe gets to tap a little bit. Lawrence is a brilliant rhythm guitarist," Ackerman said. "He gets grooves and comes up with these brilliant things. I'm actually getting chills just thinking of this.
"It's moving and it's got energy and I just want to jump in," Ackerman said. "He's capable of ballads and more melody but he has the greatest grooves in the world."
Next Stage Arts Project is at 15 Kimball Hill in Putney.
Victoria Chertok, a frequent contributor to the Reformer, is a teacher, writer and harpist.
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