Album review: PETER FRAMPTON – Hummingbird In A Box

Peter Frampton - Hummingbird In A Box

Red/Sony [Released 07.07.14]

There are not many artists who pursue a new musical direction deep into their career let alone on their 15th studio album. But Peter Frampton is no ordinary artist.

He’s never stood still since his days with The Herd, Humble Pie, Frampton’s Camel, his burgeoning mid-70’s solo career or his tour work with Bowie. Since then there’s been an increased focus on his guitar playing, from the instructional software (eMedia Guitar Method), to the 2007 award winning ‘Fingerprints’ (Best Pop Instrumental Album) and more recently ‘Frampton Guitar Circus’.

His collaboration with Gordon Kennedy on ‘Fingerprints’ is expanded here on both the song writing and production. Asked for 3 pieces by the Cincinnati Ballet, Frampton suggested the concluding third part should be newly written, and that is what makes up the hugely enjoyable 30 minute ‘Hummingbird In A Box’ mini album.

The result is surprisingly fresh, balanced and poised. There’s an intricate mix of different guitar parts, nuanced vocals and plenty of musical variety, all played with a restrained touch that emphasizes melody, tone and feel.

For an album that is essentially accompanying music, ‘Hummingbird In A Box’ has real presence from the hypnotic opening guitar line on ‘The Promenade’s Retreat’ to the chiming, resonant guitar figure on ‘Shadow Of My Mind’.

Frampton clearly got deep inside the project to make a connection between two different genres of music and ballet. There’s an undeniable elegance and grace, about the music that strikes a chord with the movements of the ballet dancers.

‘Hummingbird’ is a mini album that never overstays its welcome. It feels like a coherent series of musical sketches that perfectly fits this collaborative musical project.

‘The Promenade’s Retreat’ is a beguiling opener built round two interwoven guitars, while Peter delicately voices how he feels about the interrelationship between his guitar playing and ballet.

The title track is pure expressionism with a flamenco feel and a world weary vocal, while ‘The One In 901’ is the closest he gets to a blues- rock and fusion workout, with acoustic to piercing electric guitar lines over a pounding rhythm track that evokes mid 70’s Jeff Beck.

‘Friendly Fire’ is more of a straight forward rocker with clean picked notes and harmony vocals over a tension busting hook. The stop-start and quiet-to-loud dynamics and a guitar drenched wall of sound brings real substance to the palate to gives the ballet dancers something weightier to work with. There’ also a parallel lyrical message that draws on both relationships and war: “Why do we sling the arrows, why do we tell the lies.”

‘Heart to My Chest’ draws you in, with a gentle undulating melody punctuated by crisp percussion, while the chiming notes and an emotive vocal of ‘Shadow On My Mind’ once again evokes a brooding mood.

And suddenly its all but over, save for the relaxed gypsy jazz shuffle of ‘Norman Wisdom’, with its unexpected vocal about the late comedian offset by Steely Dan style bv’s.

‘Hummingbird In A Box’ is an impressive addition to Peter Frampton’s cannon and a gentle reaffirmation of his willingness to step outside the box to fulfil his undoubted talent. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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