Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Take guitarist Corey Christiansen, whose début record on the nascent Mel Bay Guitar Sessions label, Awakening , is filled with spirited playing and an engaging mix of original and standard compositions. Christiansen is the senior music editor and guitar clinician for Mel Bay publications, a leading supplier of instructional material on a number of instruments. His job would demand that he has formidable technique and a broad musical knowledge, and he does. But the problem is that his admirable skills often overwhelm the music; while his assertive and deft style is quick to energize, it sometimes lacks in overall musicality.
In some ways Christiansen is like a young Larry Coryell, who suffered the same problems of excess in his early days. Blinding runs and a certain kinetic excitement draw one into the record, but it ultimately becomes more a little wearisome, as flurries of notes are used in exchange for a more subtle lyricism. Coryell has, through the course of his career, matured and learned the meaning of space, and this is clearly something that Christiansen should aspire to as well. Musicians of note usually learn that music is as much about what you leave out as what you play, and Christiansen clearly needs to master that skill.
That being said, there is no question that Christiansen has all the raw materials. While his soloing is often excessive, his compositions are attractive, with pleasant melodies and interesting rhythmic hooks. The title track is a swinging 6/8 romp that gives Christiansen and pianist Per Danielsson the chance to demonstrate both their abilities to play modally and through changes. “All The Things You Are” opens and closes with an interesting vamp that gives the group a chance to settle in and get comfortable before hitting the main body of the tune. “Darn That Dream” is played as a light bossa, and Christiansen demonstrates a solid ability as a chordal player. But throughout Christiansen quite simply plays more than truly necessarily, often substituting a flurry of notes when one or two would do.
Drummer Danny Gottlieb and bassist Mark Neuenschwander provide firm support, with Gottlieb getting the chance to contribute some of his characteristically fine cymbal work on “Roads.” Gottlieb, a drummer who deserves more due than he usually receives, is also empathic, quickly catching some of the motifs that Christiansen and Danielsson throw at him.
All in all Awakening is an enjoyable début from a guitarist who, while an established educator, is relatively new to the scene. Possibly he spends too much time wood-shedding and not enough time out actively playing to develop a more restrained approach. But there is no doubt that Christiansen has all the raw materials to be a notable player; he just needs to relax a little more and let the music breathe.
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Personnel: Corey Christiansen (guitar), Danny Gottlieb (drums), Per Danielsson (piano), Mark Neuenschwander (bass)