The modern jazz scene in the Pacific Northwest has never been bashful about displaying its ties to Miles Davis's fusion period, especially the influence of rainy day ambiance from In a Silent Way. And though the influence of Cuong Vu, Bill Frisell, and John Stowell are also apparent, the relaxed jazz-rock fusion of Miles Davis's 70s period shines through. This influence has spread from the Portland-Seattle-Vancouver axis, expanding its borders. And as it hits the plains of the West, in the recordings of the musicians who call Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and Arizona their home, you can hear that rainy-day sound shift to an airier expansiveness more reflective of the wide open spaces that inform every breath and sound.
So it is with Corey Christensen's newest.
Lone Prairie opens up with an immediate expression of the modern Pacific-Northwest scene blended with that early fusion period. The bright notes of keyboards, the talkative basslines, and a chattering drum attack balance against Christiansen's guitar notes melting into the pattern of a shimmering melody. On "In the Pines," his guitar burns white hot while keeping strongly tethered to the cool groove of the rhythm section. The sound is more akin to the fusion period deep into development, and at times, resembling that which came in the 80s, leaving the In a Silent Way period behind. This is not a criticism. In fact, not only is it a strangely catchy tune, but its sheer force of will provides some satisfying balance to the album.
The Christiansen original "California Widow" gets back to an earlier fusion period sound, and to great effect. Piano provides an icy exterior to guitar's gentle heat, though it's the lithe motion provided by Allen's bass contribution that instills an intriguing coolness upon the song. And then there's the essential percussion of Michael Spiro on the rendition of "El Paso," giving the C&W ballad a vibrancy that scatters rhythmic patterns over the contemplative hum of keys and bass. Jorgensen performs a nifty modulation between complementing the understated liveliness of Spiro's percussion work and enhancing Christiansen's guitar solo.
The title of the album relates to Christiansen's childhood on the plains of Utah, and his attachment to the idea and expressions of cowboy music. Renditions of traditional songs like "Streets of Laredo" and "Sittin' On Top of the World" illustrate Christiansen's affection for songs with an easy-going cadence topped with a strongly defined melody. His rendition of Ennio Morricone's "Il Grande Massacro" is pretty damn neat--drawing out all the grand drama of the original while still slipping in some of that dreamy 70s jazz fusion sound.
The album ends with a medley of "Red River Valley" and the Christiansen original "Bootyard." It's a perfect blend of the three primary elements of this recording--a Miles Davis 1970′s fusion contemplative disposition, modern Pacific-Northwest rainy day bright and shimmering ambiance, and the folky charm of the wide-open expanse of the West. Just beautiful.
This album was released early in 2013, but I'm just now getting around to reviewing it. This has been one of those recordings that made a nice enough introduction on first listens, but gave signals that maybe, just perhaps, it had more to reveal over the passing of time. And it did. I've been returning to this album over the course of the last year, and I keep finding more to like, and become increasingly enamored with the elements of this recording previously discovered. It was one of the final cuts to my Best of 2013 list, and it will always probably nag at me a bit that maybe I should've found a way to include it. That's how I strongly I feel about this album.