There's more to guitarist Corey Christiansen's third outing as a leader than can be revealed in a cursory listen. There's funk in "When You Want," a hip shuffle in the Grant Green-meets-Jimmy Smith mode; there's easygoing romanticism in "Down Time," a samba in which Christiansen explores deep sonorities as saxophonist David Halliday updates the broad-shouldered Chicago tenor style; there's oddball angularity in the title track, a jaunty workout featuring drummer Matt Jorgensen's mastery of New Orleans second-line rhythms; there's competitiveness and urgency in "Big Kids," the most playful cut on this rich album.
Christiansen is a concise composer who knows not to overstay his welcome. The longest tune, at a shade over nine minutes, is the aptly title "Carefree," a melodic gem that features the doubled lines of Christiansen and Halliday. This is a good group partly because it is so economical. Here, when it's time for Christiansen's solo, drama takes over. The guitarist's edgy yet purposeful single-note style fits the tune like a glove. The composition has a conventional frame but the inside picture is anything but.
Yes, this is soul jazz, and the format is familiar. But Christiansen, organist Pat Bianchi, saxman Halliday and drummer Jorgensen are confident enough to surprise, making the warm, accessible 'Outlaw Tractor' a winner.