Matt Flinner Trio
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
By now mandolin maestro Flinner has staked out his somewhat unique territory;acoustic jazz/bluegrass/folk/country instrumentals enlivened by stunning, often jaw-dropping musicianship that never feels showy even when it is. And it’s not damning his new album with faint praise to say Traveling Roots sounds like his others. Flinner and backing duo of stand-up bassist Eric Thorin and guitarist Ross Martin have, over the years, acquired an almost surreal sense of playing with and off each other in this configuration, making each new release a bit better than the previous one.
He is probably tired of hearing the “newgrass/dawg music” comparisons to David Grisman and Tony Rice who established the basic blueprint for this genre back in the early ‘80s. But just because Flinner isn’t generating something entirely new you can still appreciate how talented, creative and boundary pushing his trio’s approach is. The way he and guitarist Martin trade licks on tracks like the humorously titled “Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump” is beautiful to behold and when the three pound out a lick in unison as on “Yard Games,” it feels both natural and spine-tingling.
There is no shortage of breakneck fret shredding exemplified by the closing “The Terry Cloth Warriors” and the sweeter yet complex interweaving melodies of “One Dog Night” to attract those looking for further examples of the nimble fingers we have come to expect from this ensemble. But it’s the sensitive, easy flowing melody of “Pioneer Coffey,” the playful, jaunty “Shiny Blue” and the lovely “Fallen Star” that show Flinner and his band (each contributes songs separately) to be consummate musicians able to create moving music that doesn’t rely on whizz-bang dynamics to impress. Rather, it’s those calmer tunes that make this such an exciting, innovative and listenable release if you’re less interested in speedy runs and more concerned with tuneful, albeit wordless, compositions.
That said, repeated listens helps distinguish these often complex pieces from each other and, at 51 minutes, this generous dozen track set does get repetitious. But once the tunes stick, as they eventually will, it’s clear that the Flinner trio have few contemporary peers. On Traveling Roots they may not be redefining the field but are further reinforcing their mastery of a genre most others don’t have the chops or creativity to even approach.