Red Shoe Records
A fiddler who has found homes in the progressive and traditional worlds both, Casey Driessen (and his distinctive 5 String Fiddle) plants his foot firmly in the former on this, his second solo album. With his own group, Colorfools, and as a sideman to a host of artists (Steve Earle, Abigail Washburn, Bela Fleck), Driessen has become a global traveler, and it would appear that the music he's heard on these journeys has been seamlessly absorbed into his own style and transformed into progressive world music with a Western foundation. Helping him advance this formulation is a stellar trio of bassist Viktor Krauss, electric guitarist Darrell Scott and drummer/percussionist Matt Chamberlain, with Jason Lehning serving as Driessen's co-producer and engineer.
That this is not going to be a traditional workout is established from the start—the aggressive album opening discourse, "Green Flash," finds Driessen leading the charge by adding a pronounced eastern drone to a percussive, jittery arrangement. Inspired by a memorable concert he witnessed by a South Indian violinist, the second song, "Uncontinental Breakfast," starts as a moody, droning rumination underpinned by the sound of tablas, pedal steel and atmospherically affecting electronic effects, before the collective intensity rises as the instruments spar with and answer each other in a spirited celebration. And though the third song, "Hummingbirds vs. Yellowjackets" was, according to Driessen's liner notes at www.caseydriessen.com/oog, inspired by a scuffle he witnessed between those two factions over a source of nectar, one wonders if its jazzy thrust isn't something of a nod to the veteran Yellowjackets band—its arrangement, featuring Driessen's melodic, jagged fiddle lines, Chamblerlain's restless percussion, and Scott's stabbing, chiming guitar riffs (with a touch of blues quotation thrown in) would seem to indicate as much. When Driessen does venture into traditionalism, well, he evinces more interest in turning it inside out than preserving it for posterity. Witness what he does with Bill Monroe's "Ashland Breakdown," kicking it off with a few bars of jittery, backwards looped—yes, backwards—soloing that is then mated to the standard, straightforward melody—Driessen explains the effect best in the aforementioned liner notes, to wit: "There are two pairs of fiddles here: backwards melody & backwards rhythm/forwards melody & forwards rhythm. I tried out all the various combinations." He adds, "For the most part it worked out, however the tone of my backwards fiddle is more bizarre than I imagined—and everyone loves a backwards solo!" Well, it is certainly an attention-getter and like nothing Mr. Bill ever conjured, although one suspects the master would approve of a forward-looking vision of his music. For those looking for something more familiar, something more, well, traditional, to hang their hats on, Driessen offers "Hunt For the Quail Egg" and the lovely "Rose Tea Waltz." The latter, which employs Chamberlain in what Driessen calls "electronic mangulation" in adding burbling effects to the atmosphere, is a lovely, slightly spacey waltz that has a great outdoors feel about it, or a suggestion of a vast open, pristine landscape complementing its buoyant, exultant spirit (if you think you hear echoes of Mark Isham's "A River Runs Through It" soundtrack, you might be right—it's fleeting, but it does seem to be there). "Hunt For the Quall Egg," on the other hand, might remind some of the Hot Swing work of an artist who's received a fair share of enthusiastic press in these pages this year, Mark O'Connor, in its mating of a fast and furious medley racing over Scott's frisky electric guitar and Krauss's giddy bass lines in conjuring that Django-esque feeling of yore, albeit one powered by considerably higher octane fuel. Thus the terrain Casey Driessen has marked for himself—it's global, it's urban and rural, it cuts across time and occupies its own space. Give Oog a chance, and you may find yourself similarly transported. —David McGee