Peter Frampton, of course, has an album in “Frampton Comes Alive” that gave him hit songs he will always have to play whenever he steps on stage for a concert.
But that iconic album hasn’t forced him to live in the past. Quite the opposite, Frampton insists on moving forward musically, refusing to let that define his artistic present and future.
That outlook was apparent when he celebrated the 35th anniversary of
“Frampton Comes Alive” with a lengthy 2011-12 tour that featured an epic show each night. Yes, he played the live album in its entirety.
But then he devoted an entire second set to newer material, much of which came from two acclaimed albums that have helped rejuvenate his career over the past decade, his Grammy-winning 2006 instrumental album “Fingerprints” and an equally excellent 2010 CD, “Thank You Mr. Churchill.”
Now Frampton pushed himself into another realm, composing seven songs that were part of a 2013 performance of the Cincinnati Ballet that was set to his music. Those seven new songs were released in June 2014 as the EP, “Hummingbird in a Box.”
Given the chance to collaborate with the Cincinnati Ballet, Frampton realized he was no longer bound to the usual rules of pop/rock songwriting structure.
“We don’t necessarily have to have intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, out,” Frampton explained in a phone interview. “It can be whatever we want it to be. Therefore all of a sudden I decided I would have a song (‘The One In 901’) completely break down, and it just had background vocals over a riff, just for a visual thing almost.
“On (the track) ‘Norman Wisdom,’ it’s just a chorus comes in every now and again, and the rest of it is completely instrumental. So each track was completely different and didn’t follow any songwriting rules — not that there should be rules, but there are — well, accepted (conventions for) this is how you go. You have your verse, your chorus, your verse, your chorus, your bridge, chorus out sort of thing. But this, we just sort of changed up and said there’s no rhyme or reason to do anything specific that should come in here.”
If the song structures weren’t typical, the music Frampton created for the Cincinnati Ballet should still sound familiar to fans.
An EP that is as eclectic as it is concise, “Hummingbird in a Box” ranges from the fluid and slightly jazzy “Promenade” to the acoustic “Norman Wisdom” (which has a jazzy Django Reinhardt feel) to snazzy and rocking “The One In 901” (which has a bit of Joe Satriani in its molten guitar lines) to the topical anthem “Friendly Fire.”
Frampton is so pleased with the music on “Hummingbird in a Box,” that he thinks the project will set a precedent for albums he makes in the future.
“It was very freeing,” he said of “Hummingbird.” “It’s also made me think ahead because that’s the way I want to approach my music from now on as well. It’s just different. How can I make it different? How can I make it more enjoyable for me to find new places to go? And the ballet definitely made me sit up and think, wow, this is different. And it doesn’t have to always be the same. We can change it up. There are no rules. There really are no rules when it comes to music.
“What I do, it’s not going to be the same as a straight rock pop album,” Frampton said. “I don’t think it will ever be like that again. It’s just going to be different.”
Frampton at some point may go beyond exploring how he can use unconventional song structures within a rock-pop album format.
Having gotten a taste of ballet, he has his sights set on collaborating with an orchestra — perhaps the Nashville Orchestra in the city where he now spends considerable time — on some sort of musical work.
“I have often thought I would love to do something with a symphony, but not my old music,” Frampton said. “I’m talking about something brand new, so that it’s actually written, coordinated with the symphony, the conductor and whoever would be the arranger and whatever. That would be something I would really love to do, and mainly instrumental.”
For now, what Frampton wants to do most is play live, and he’s on tour this summer with Cheap Trick. The co-headlining format should give him a chance to hit the highlights of a solo career that began in 1971, following his four-album stint with Humble Pie.
“I always like to keep it fresh,” Frampton said of his shows. “So I’m always going to do the chestnuts, the ones that people want to hear. But we do mix it up.”