The reason behind Corey Christiansen’s clinically precise guitar style is his experience with Mel Bay Guitar Instruction. He is fluent in all guitar styles, which fully informs his recording and performing persona. His previous recording, Roll With It (Origin, 2008), employing the same band as on the present Outlaw Tractor, was a sleek funk machine updating the soul jazz of the 1960s. Previous to that, Awakening (Mel Bay, 2004) demonstrated, with a piano quartet, the great (if a bit wordy) promise that Christiansen has brought into sharper focus with his more recent organ quartet releases.
Christiansen tightens things up on Outlaw Tractor, a true feat when considering Roll With It was tight as a drum. The disc opener sets the tone, and that tone is Les McCann, Eddie Harris, Ramsey Lewis — “The In Crowd” funky. “Down Time” begins with a brief organ processional that introduces Christiansen’s too-funky-to-live subject. His tone remains slightly fuzzy and round, distorted in the middle of the reverberation spectrum. This gives his chording a punchy, bright feel. The first solo out is saxophonist David Halliday, who squeezes notes out like Lee Morgan on The Jazz Messengers’ “Moanin,’” redefining the meaning of “bad” in the jazz vernacular. Organist Pat Bianchi plays conservatively, never overwhelming even in his solos. Origin mainstay Matt Jorgensen deftly provides the rhythmic momentum to sent this boat forward.
“When You Want” features an equally funky introductory line that evolves into the piece’s angular head. Guitar and saxophone double over Bianchi’s harmonic support?Christiansen’s solo pithy with attitude, while Halliday paints outside the lines and the organist plays from the Funky Church of Al Green. This is beautifully conceived soul jazz given a 21st Century spin. All seven selections, Christiansen originals, mine this rich loam of American music and present it in a spic and span modern fashion. The compositions are both immediate familiar and, at the same time, brand new. Outlaw Tractor is an improvement over the excellent Roll With It, and that is saying something.