I first became aware of Matt Flinner when I was living in Missoula, Montana in the early nineties. One night, after a beer-powered folk duet performance with a buddy, we made our way over to the Wilma Theater to see a touring band called Loose Ties. Flinner and the rest of the group were touring to promote their new CD Tangled Roots, which to this day is one of my favorite ‘new’ grass albums of all time. That show helped steer my musical career path toward bluegrass music, what with songs from the ‘present’ being played with the fire of Bill Monroe. Needless to say, I was filled with anticipatory delight when I caught wind of a new CD from the Matt Flinner Trio, Winter Harvest, a new collection of original instrumentals that fall into the ‘Bluegrass Jazz’ category.
Now, I tend to lean towards the single-mic version of bluegrass, but I can’t ignore talent. Scheduled for release January 31st, 2012, Matt sent over a link, giving us a chance to preview the tunes on Winter Harvest. In case you don’t already know, the Matt Flinner Trio is what I would call experimental. They write stuff on the bus and walk out on stage and play it. That takes huge shiny balls hanging from your Christmas tree! But these ‘cats’ pull it off (cat: /kat/, Noun: a cool musician that can sound jazzy if he needs to). The group consists of mandolinist Flinner, guitarist Ross Martin and bassist Eric Thorin, and they claim to have done over 70 shows playing this material, pulling from a ‘road-pertoire’ of over 200 songs. The CD is a sequel to their 2009 Music Du Jour.
As I started getting into the recording, I noticed something that I remembered from hop-tinged memory: Matt’s tone is impeccable. The album starts out with a lovely groove from the trio on a tune called Raji’s Romp. The bass and mandolin share the melody at first, followed by the guitar takes over leading them into a straighter bluegrass sounding mandolin solo. Ross Martin pulls great tone out of his guitar. The album has a tune called Bitterroot, a place near to my heart. A place where I have hunted ducks with a Labrador I bought in Darby, Montana. It’s a serene piece with a slow moving melody, spacious and brooding, very much like the Bitterroot River itself. Bassist Thorin stands out to me on Full Count, driving the moody tune nicely, complimenting the nice guitar work from Martin.
Overall, this is a beautiful sounding CD that’s an exploration of several things. The acoustic trio sound, tonality, and compositions with unexpected chord changes and melody lines. While you’re not going to get a raging version of the Arab Bounce, you will get some great playing on tunes I can assure you, you’ve not heard before. Okay, perhaps if you caught them down the Bitterroot after a long bus ride of theirs in Montana!