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It’s no surprise that Jesse Van Ruller makes a strong statement as a mainstream soloist on his first Criss Cross release, Here and There. What is a bit confounding is that fact that it’s taken so long for the Dutch native to find such a perfect forum for his talents. Back in 1995, the guitarist won that year’s Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition (the first European artist to do so) and yet American audiences have yet to really pick up on van Ruller’s talents. In the tradition of Tal Farlow, Herb Ellis, and Jim Hall, this young guitarist keeps the fast company of two different groupings, one in a quartet with David Hazeltine on piano and the other a sparse trio setting with just bass and drums.
Standards are the order of the day, although van Ruller offers a few tweaks here and there (no pun intended!) to keep things interesting, his electric hollow body producing a warm and fuzzy sound that is undeniably attractive. There’s also a clear Tristano connection that raises its head on a teeming upbeat version of Lee Konitz’s “Subconscious-Lee.” They say that it’s on a ballad that any jazzman worth his salt will stand out from the poseurs. If that’s the case, then van Ruller stakes his claim on “Prelude to a Kiss,” caressing Duke’s melody with authority and confidence. As strong as these quartet performances may be, it’s within the trio format that the guitarist really rises to the occasion, presenting solid chordal work along with solos that stay largely in the realm of single note runs. “In Walked Bud” and “Cedar’s Blues” are both bristling with youthful exuberance, the latter bringing to a brisk close this accomplished effort.
No doubt that van Ruller is well on his way to becoming a formidable contender on the New York jazz scene, if he chooses to do so. Mainstream guitar fans will surely enjoy this swinging set while rejoicing at the arrival of a considerable new talent.
Track Listing: The Best Things In Life Are Free, Christina, Bye Bye Baby, Subconcious-Lee, Prelude to a Kiss, Debits and Credits, Everything I Love, In Walked Bud, Ballad of the Sad Young Men, Cedar's Blues
Personnel: Jesse van Ruller (guitar), David Hazeltine (piano), Nat Reeves (bass), Joe Farnsworth (drums), Frans van Geest (bass on tracks 7-10), Willie Jones III (drums on tracks 7-10)