Madison-based double bassist John Christensen is certainly no rookie to jazz, even though Dear Friend would appear to be his debut album. After attending the University of North Texas, Christensen chose to follow a more personalized education and set up camp in San Francisco. It is in the bay area that he committed to extensive gigging with numerous projects before moving to Madison in 1999. Today, nearly two decades later, the bassist demonstrates the vast qualities he picked up on and developed over the years in a quartet formation that sees his set of tunes through with much vigor and detailed attention.
At its very core, this record substantiates a positive energy, positivity being the main emotion it transports to the listener. Along the contours, on the other hand, a variety of nuances can be discovered, which color the record in a much more ambiguous light. The melancholic melody lines of the piano on the eponymously titled opener are only an example of some of the trimmings here. One common trait that guides the entire record is the strong folk influence, which at times leaves the listener almost in anticipation of an alternative-country songwriter to step in and own the mic.
After some atmospheric chord strokes on "Something Said in Passing," guitarist Dave Miller makes his mark on the bass driven and pulsating "Hay-De Hoedown" and, following a short and juicy bass solo, drenches the tune in country twang. On the following folk ballad, "Prairie Grass Suite," Miller is given complete sovereignty and dominates with minimally blues-tinged guitar licks.
All the while these jazz cats are of course fully aware of what they're doing and never take the folk theme too seriously. By persistently adding different layers of syncopation and humorous little chromatic sidesteps in their melodic interplay the band maintains a jazzy approach with a whimsical youthfulness around the edges.
A more somber tone returns on "Slate Icicles on Trees." Christensen's bass lines remain firm and clear throughout while Miller stretches and bends the melody in most harmonious fashion. Johannes Wallmanns chord stabs and Andrew Greens sparse snare and bass hits are in complete support of the double bass line -rightfully placing the guitar and melody at the song's center. "Smells are Awesome" picks up the pace again and finishes the record off in a reconciled mood. Every instrument gets a last stab at solo poignancy before bringing the comfortable tune to an end in a unified manner.
Joh Christensen has done well to wait for the release of a record under his name, for rarely does a debut record sound as mature and intriguing as Dear Friend does.
Dear Friend; Something Said In Passing; Hay-He Hoedown; Prairie Grass Suite; Spooky Action at a Distance; Slate
Icicles on Trees; Smells are Awesome.
John Christensen: bass; Johannes Wallmann: piano; Dave Miller: guitar; Andrew Green: drums.