Matt Flinner Trio : Winter Harvest

Written by Dave Stallard

January 28, 2012

My list of favorite mandolin players is fairly short – Dave Grisman, Mike Marshall, Chris Thile, Ronnie McCoury, Sam Bush.  To followers of bluegrass and its many extensions, these virtuosos are easily recognizable and, frankly, regular occupants on lists like mine.

Recently, I have added another mandolin picker to my list – Matt Flinner.

To be honest, I don’t know why Flinner hasn’t been on my list for years.  I caught him, well over a decade ago, with flatpicker David Grier at a tiny coffeehouse in Charlottesville, Virginia, and distinctly remember being blown away.  More recently, I saw him backing up Darrell Scott at a local festival – his talent remained prodigious.  The only thing I can chalk it up to is not having any of Flinner’s recordings in my collection – sort of an “out of ear, out of mind” type of thing.

Well, no more.

Flinner’s talents are now front and center in my musical psyche after receiving Winter Harvest, his most recent release with guitarist Ross Martin and bass player Eric Thorin, his mates in the Matt Flinner Trio.

Perhaps most interesting about this record is the process Flinner, Martin, and Thorin set about recording it.  For most bands, the idea of “road testing” a tune means working the kinks out over multiple shows, fine tuning it over time until, in the band’s mind, the tune is well practiced and tight.  For this trio, road testing means, literally, writing tunes on the road on the very day they will be performed and recorded.   Flinner and his mates first attempted this is 2006, when they began what they call their music du jour process of songwriting.  For each show, each member of the band would work up a new song to be played and recorded that very night.  No extra practice, no time to work the bugs out.  One can imagine the final notes being worked out in the van outside the venue.

This is songcraft at its most organic and it certainly works for Flinner’s trio.  The music is guaranteed to be fresh and invigorating – with new tunes constantly taking shape, there is no way Flinner, Martin, and Thorin can get stale, and the spontaneity and zeal of these new songs is very much alive on Winter Harvest.  Bluegrass, folk, jazz, and international flavors blend splendidly.  Highlights include the disc opener, “Raji’s Romp,” the somber “Bitterroot,” and the easily whimsical “The Stumbling Bro.”

Because I have known of Flinner for years, I consider it nigh on sinful that I haven’t taken the time to know his recordings better.  Winter Harvest is an apt introduction, one that demands I quickly dig deeper into his earlier works.

Winter Harvest is out now on Compass Records.