I don't typically incline towards funky R&B/ fusion music. See-sawing major chords, repeated licks, and hypnotic vamps are associated with long-road trips and exercise classes, neither optimal for serene aesthetic contemplation. All the more surprising that this over-the-top boisterous funk outing swept away my misgivings about the genre on the strength of its freshness and musical candor.
The tunes are all written by Corey Christiansen in response to the usual "people in my life, places, characters, landscapes," etc. More likely, the tunes reflect funky records he has listened to and assimilated with a fine sense of what works artistically.
The first tune Turtle Dove, reveals the guitarist's sweet side. An affecting melodic line swings over a simple two-chord progression, with some flattering acoustic guitar backing. But when the band kicks in, a veritable category 5 storm blows up with the guitarist switching settings on his gorgeous Buscarino axe and indulging in first-rate shredding. For the non-guitaristic crowd, some indulgence is necessary. In fact, the vehemence does not utterly obscure an excellent feel for line and figure. Indeed, by the end I developed a liking for the funk aspirations of the player and must place him among those I deem thoughtful and deliberate soloists. The high-point of this track, however, was the sparkling style of Zach Lapidus, whose fender Rhodes approach took me immediately back to the origins of the style as exemplified in Herbie Hancock's joyous solo on Cornbread. Lapidus has a unfailingly melodic instinct which is happiest in up-tempo flying but never loses a strong sense of pulse.
The pianist also stands out on Palouse and Black-Eyed Susan, the heart of the album. The first blends a R&B ballad melody to a swirling bebop line played in tight unison. Guitarist and Rhodes demonstrate fast fingers on long and exhilarating solos while rhythm section locks in on a mighty groove. The following track blazes away at a furious tempo. A long Weather Report-style solo by Lapidus is the highlight with burbling percussion and guitar accents following a "leave nothing out" dictum. Christiansen plays with the careful plectrum articulation of the fastest ever jazz guitar players. One scarcely notices how bland both chords and melody are given the riotous forward momentum, although the fadeout underscores the shaggy construction of the tune.
As compositions, the final two tracks merit the most praise. Without the keyboardist, the leader is left more exposed and his melodic gifts and nuanced playing on slower tunes is persuasively demonstrated. Not Whatever catches the bassist and guitar in happy rapport on a lyrical theme that includes just enough harmonic complexity to balance the sweetness and blues nostalgia that permeates this musician's idiom. Skinny Big shows that one of the places/people visited by the guitarist is John Scofield. The ear-worm hook and a number of the licks evoke that great groove master from an earlier period of his career. Some harmonic wizardry saves Return from straying into pop banality on a long tune which might have benefited from the now missed piano. There is just enough space to allow us to appreciate what a fine recording this session is, vivid, detailed, and warm.
Overall, this group impresses with its high-spirits and inspired playing of tunes firmly rooted in Americana. Highly recommended.