With Panorama, Frank Maston pays homage to the classic era of library records and Italian soundtracks of the 70s. A blissed-out, grooving collection of filmic cues, it continues the unique brilliance of Tulips and Darkland. Elegant and easy, subtle and stylish, breezy and beautiful; this is his Maston-piece. Commissioned by legendary label KPM, Panorama cements Maston as a master of modern classics and the most mesmeric of contemporary composers.
In early 2020, Be With suggested to Frank that he should make a KPM record. He wasn't aware that they were still putting out new library records - but he was super keen: "It was completely surreal and it still hasn't fully sank in that I have a record in that catalog, sitting alongside those incredible albums that were so influential to me."
Frank was visiting family in his hometown of LA in March 2020 when the world ground to a halt so the KPM project arrived at a fortuitous moment. Having fantasised about committing to a record with no distractions, with a proper budget, access to his gear and space to work in - to really dig in and try to write and arrange the best work he could possibly make - it was a real "be careful what you wish for" moment. But, as Frank explained, "it completely saved my year and sanity to have something to focus on and get excited about. It was my lifeline." He spent seven months on it, working almost every day.
Maston had already been making library-influenced music so when KPM outlined the criteria for the tracks it was exactly what he had been doing all along. He thought the best approach would be to make a follow-up to Tulips that had a parallel life as a KPM record. Enjoying complete creative freedom, “gave me the drive to power through and dig in deep. I'm not sure if I could have kept myself on such a rigorous recording schedule under my own steam, and I think the momentum I had writing and recording it is part of the strength of this record."
Maston’s sleek retro-groove instrumentals emulate the classic KPM “Greensleeve” reel-to-reel recordings that provided mood-setting music for mid-century cinema, television, and radio programs. Apparently in close conversation with the John Cameron-Keith Mansfield KPM pastoral masterclass Voices In Harmony, Maston's Panorama could be heard as that record's funky follow-up. Yes, it's *that good*. Another reference point from the hallowed library would be Francis Coppieter's wonderful Piano Viberations.
Opener "First Class" is a blissed-out groove, featuring the soothing vocals of Molly Lewis and a glistening harp over drums, a two-note bass motif (from Eli Ghersinu of L'Eclair) and an assemblage of guitars, synths, French horn and glowing vibraphone. Acid Lounge, anyone? The irresistibly funky "Easy Money" is a gorgeous cut led by more of Molly's vocals, pastoral flute and Rhodes, underpinned by drums and percussion, grooving bass, chilled guitars and synth strings. Kicking the tempo up, the percussive "Storm" is a vibin' filmic-fusion jam where psychedelic guitars (courtesy of Pedrum of Allah Las/Paint) organ, jazzy flute, Rhodes and vibes all compete for a place in the sun, over drums and walking bassline.
The heavenly "You Shouldn't Have" is a delicate, melancholic wonder; a dreamy instrumental where the melody is shared by a whistle, harpsichord and celeste, over a cyclical piano chord sequence and bass, synths, guitars, organ and distant French horn. The tempo rises again with the passionate, sticky "Fling", a summery, nostalgic groove with skipping drums and percussion, warm bass and electric guitar, yearning flute and synth strings. The brilliantly titled "Fool Moon" has that Voices In Harmony sound down pat. A romantic slow-mo dreamscape of Rhodes and harpsichord, piano, light drums and softly strummed acoustic guitar.
Side B opens with "Medusa", a hopeful, mellowed-out track with shuffling drums, feel-good flute, muted horns, glowing Rhodes and synth strings. The soft and gentle "Morning Paper" is an elegant way to start the day; a beatless blend of flute, guitar, percussion, ambient synths and vibes. The upbeat head-nod jam "Scenic" has that widescreen car-chase feel, uptempo drums and percussion, grooving bass, piano, synths and ambient electric guitar. "Adieu" is a smooth summer vibe, relaxing with brushed drums, Rhodes, flutes and horns. Molly Lewis's gorgeous vocals steal the show, alongside vibes, jamming organ and synth strings.
"Hydra" is another laid-back 70s-sounding retro cinema cue with light drums and percussion, walking bass, spacey synths, clavinet, glowing vibraphone, vintage organ and electric guitar. Closer "Jet Lag" is a laconic bow out; bass-driven drum machine soul, featuring hand percussion, Rhodes, vibes, synths and organ.
Multi-instrumentalist Frank played a bit of everything across Panorama. Yet, humble as ever, he believes the time, energy, and enthusiasm of all of the musicians invited to the sessions helped him realise his vision: "There were two Italian flautists who really understood what I was going for. Two french horn players, cor anglais, a vibraphonist and a flügel horn player. I've never involved this many people in my projects before, and yet the result is the most "me" record I've ever made."
Musically, a strong Italian theme runs through the record. Frank is fascinated by ancient Rome and both his parents are Italian (Maston was originally Mastrantonio before anglicisation). So, it felt natural to fully embrace these strands and tie everything together with the striking artwork. The Romans were influenced by Greek culture, emulating their art and architecture, which, in turn, influenced Renaissance era artists. Frank acknowledged this tradition when reflecting on his place in the lineage of library and soundtrack composers. He then asked his friend Mattea Perrotta, a painter and sculptor, for some sketches. What he received was exactly what he had in mind: "Especially the theater mask, which really captures the range of moods on the album". Frank arranged them as per the cover and it soon felt right: "I wanted to make a cover that was reminiscent of the classic KPM albums without making it too pastiche - so it has its own identity and looks at home alongside other library records, while still fitting in nicely in the KPM catalogue." The last step was for us to introduce Frank to Be With-KPM’s Rich Robinson, who helped put together the back and centre labels and align it all within the KPM standard.
Panorama is a perfect title for the album. With no opportunity to travel for tours or recording projects, Frank arranged postcards from his collection on his desk with beautiful views of the mediterranean coast, the Roman Colosseum and Cinque Terre. These also served as visual prompts: "That was part of the sonic concept - imagining myself driving down the mediterranean coast with this music on, with the top down." Additionally, the range of moods and vibes - "I tried to make each song very different from the previous one in terms of tempo and arrangement and feeling" - speaks to the idea of a Panorama of music and sounds and emotions. The last track was originally called Panorama, but KPM already had that title in their catalogue so it was changed to "Jet Lag", which, as Frank notes, "is perhaps even more fitting, since the trip is over".
We’ve never worked so closely with someone on a project before who has been so invested in the process. It's truly a joy for us to work with Frank. We'll let him conclude: "I would honestly say it's my favorite record I've ever done and truly my proudest musical achievement so far. There's not one thing I would change about the songs, performances, mixes, artwork etc. It really turned out exactly how I envisioned when I started working on it. And I think it really brings things full circle for me in regards to Tulips, which was when I was discovering a lot of these KPM records and the Italian soundtrack composers and trying to explore that world. With Panorama, I feel like I completely immersed myself in it and came out the other side feeling like I had mastered this sort of thing that had really touched and inspired me."
The vinyl has been mastered by Simon Francis, cut by Pete Norman and pressed at Record Industry. For those finally able to own this stunning album on wax, the trip need never be over.