Regardless of the myriad labels thrust upon it, good music is simply music. With that stated, drummer Frank Briggs' release, China Ranch, could fit comfortably within many categorizations, its elements including fusion/progressive rock, electronic music, grooveacious funk or contemporary jazz with plenty of creative substance.
A propulsive drummer in the style of Tony Williams, Briggs has been active in the Los Angeles area for a number of years. With this debut he enlists the help of a stellar cast of musicians; some lesser known in addition to recognizable veterans such as guitarist Frank Gambale and keyboardist/composer Kit Walker. With inspiration from a desert hike in China Ranch, a Mojave Desert oasis, the music mirrors Briggs' experience witnessing the vibrant colors and renewed environment after a desert rain, teeming with new life and positive energy.
The spark is ignited with "Desert Flower," a fusion up-tempo piece with Kit Walker providing his still strong synthesizer and Fender Rhodes chops, an elastic Jaco Pastorius-like bass solo from Ric Fierabracci, and a torched guitar solo from Brian Price as Briggs commandingly works the kit. His drumming covers a broad range, from thundering backbeats to cymbal finesse on the slow-cooked "Tecopa Moon," a piece with thick electronics and a hypnotic pulse.
Like a view of the desert terrain, a closer look reveals variety that might otherwise go unnoticed; a picturesque ballad in "Melonie," neon-lit dance floor persuasions in "Dreams" with its moog-synth bass line, Return To Forever jazz funk-rock on the title piece, and some 'Weather Reporting' on "Furnace Creek," a perfect swirl of electronics and driving beats.
Briggs' writing admirably balances both melody and progressiveness throughout the recording, including the final track "Saints," where Mitchel Forman's piano and keyboards, Gambale's guitar fireworks and the author's own tremendous drumming all converge in harmony.
China Ranch is a solid debut that is consistent and filled with memorable tunes and impressive performances that would appeal to a variety of listeners.