The Matt Flinner Trio has mastered the art of composing music while on tour. The group practices a unique approach by writing songs in hotel rooms, dressing rooms, on airplanes and in the back of tour vans—and debuting the new pieces the same night. Sonically founded in bluegrass, jazz and American acoustic music, the virtuosic collaboration between mandolinist Matt Flinner, guitarist Ross Martin and bassist Eric Thorin, is a finely tuned composition machine. Culling the best from the over two hundred tunes in their repertoire, the trio is releasing Winter Harvest, a road-crafted sequel to their 2009 release, Music Du Jour.
“We’re building on what we started with Music Du Jour, debuting tunes the day they were written. But I think Winter Harvest is a more mature CD; we’ve done close to seventy of these shows now, so we’re getting to choose fifteen tunes out of two hundred and six. We wanted to choose the few tunes that really defined the group and where we’d gone.”
Originally a banjo player, Flinner won the National Banjo Contest at Winfield Kansas in 1990 and then, as he mastered the mandolin, returned and took the same prize the following year for that instrument. Flinner mastered the bluegrass style and genre and was driven to seek greater degrees of musical maturity through jazz studies. “Bluegrass and jazz are both improvisational and truly American,” says Flinner. “We strive to advance the (bluegrass) genre and do new things with it, hopefully creating a unique form out of other uniquely American forms.”
Winter Harvest is the next chapter in the Matt Flinner Trio canon. Flinner comments that this collection is “not jazz, not bluegrass, and not world music, but it’s some kind of weird combination of all those things. These are the tunes that we felt were not trying to copy one of these other genres, but the ones that achieved a blend of the genres in an organic way.”
Inspired by the expansive American landscape and the conversation that evolves in the back of a tour van, tune and title subject matter were greatly varied. The album opening “Raji’s Romp” is a playful tribute to the first career touchdown made by B.J. Raji of the Green Bay Packers to win the National Football championship in January 2011, while the dreamy “Bitterroot” was written by guitarist Ross Martin and rehearsed by the band all in the half hour before a performance because Martin hadn’t managed to write his tune earlier that day. “The tunes are inspired by necessity as much as anything, I guess!” laughs Flinner.
The band’s conversational melodic exchanges, harmonic counterpoint and rhythmic precision are beautifully engaging and complex, with each instrument highlighted and voiced to suit the puzzle piece-like song structures. Whether doubling the melody in bass and mandolin or expressing a unison rhythmic motif, the trio is unmatched in their execution of style. The album’s special guest featured Flinner’s son Lucas who contributed the auxiliary percussive sounds to the track “The Stumbling Bro.” At four years old, Lucas used his destructive expertise to smash bottles and drop various objects in front of the microphones. Says Flinner of his son’s first studio session, “Like a Nashville pro, Lucas came in and nailed it.”
The Matt Flinner Trio will be on tour Spring 2012 promoting and performing selections from Winter Harvest. They will continue to write new compositions on the road, further pioneering their signature style of American roots music.