Southern California-based Cryptogramophone Records was founded in 1998 by violinist extraordinaire Jeff Gauthier. Since its inception, the label has been on the upswing within the global jazz-centric community. In a sense, it has become an institution, featuring a roster of forward thinking musicians, such as Californians Nels Cline (guitar), Scott Amendola (drums), Steuart Liebig (bass), and of course Mr. Gauthier. The record label's manifesto is ensconced within pristine audio characteristics, artsy packaging, and a consistently versatile recording output. The record label's mission statement sums it all up rather appropriately: 'Cryptogramophone presents state of the art recordings of creative jazz in beautifully designed packages.' The producers also state: 'We present artists who are not afraid of beauty, simplicity or complexity, as they explore the far reaches of artistic vision and instrumental technique.'
Although the label highlights among the best and brightest California musicians, Gauthier and company also employ artists from the East Coast and elsewhere. Essentially, the record label is enjoying a distribution expansion to coincide with its penetration into the far-reaching progressive jazz, avant-garde, and electro-acoustic jazz market.
In 2003, releases by trombonist Scot Ray and his quintet ( Active Vapor Recovery ) and Erik Friedlander ( Quake ), were included among many critics' top ten picks. In 2003 Bone Structure signified a collective effort by Gauthier, percussionist Gregg Bendian, bassist Steuart Leibig and guitarist G.E. Stinson. In certain respects, this outing typifies the record label's indelible stamp of originality. On this release, the quartet fuses ethereal jamming with shameless virtuosity via a sense of modulating extremism. Throughout, the listener will notice veiled melodies, accelerated by Stinson's electrified improvisations and his haunting unison choruses with Gauthier. It's a mind-bending experience indeed.
Released in 2002, guitarist Nels Cline reaffirmed his penchant for wearing many hats, so to speak. The trio's moniker, the Nels Cline Singers, is humorously misleading, since there are no vocals. A paradoxical reference for sure, as the album title Instrumentals parlays an impacting, quasi jazz-fusion format, awash with Cline's bone crushing electric leads and avant stylizations. Amendola and bassist Devin Hoff provide a hefty and rather sinuous bottom end for these largely experimental pieces, founded upon blitzing rock motifs and a few cosmic meltdowns along the way. Cline also injects ambient dreamscapes into the mix. Another superb 2002 outing finds acoustic bass hero Mark Dresser leading a trio date with longtime collaborator and hyperpiano enthusiast Denman Maroney. On Aquifier , woodwind specialist Mathias Ziegler offers contrasting elements and much more to complement his band-mates' hybrid classical-jazz-improvisation type motifs. With this production, the musicians navigate through darkly hued textures amid odd-metered pulses and whimsical interludes. Moreover, Dresser's arco work coupled with Maroney's unusual manifestations offers a surfeit of emotive characteristics.
Spanning 2000 through 2002, Cryptogramophone issued three separate CDs (Volume I-III) of the late bassist Eric von Essen's compositions performed by interchanging personnel. These recordings feature Cline, Gauthier, drummer Peter Erskine, various bassists, and many others of note, rendering interpretations of the West Coast bassist's body of work. During his career, von Essen performed with pianist Jimmy Rowles and trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, to cite just a few. Notable jazz pianist's Alan Broadbent, and Alan Pasqua appear on many of these renditions, as von Essen's music is rooted within multi-colored pastiches of sound, regardless of tempo. His artistry is expounded upon these three CDs in passionate fashion, where the various ensembles execute breezy, post-bop vamps, swinging jazz grooves and penetrating ballads. Even when the music teeters on the red zone, von Essen's works contain a smooth edge, often highlighting a particular soloist on a per composition basis.
Jeff Gauthier's highly acclaimed 2001 solo endeavor, Goatette , is constructed upon climactically driven jazz-fusion choruses, marked with fluently executed parts. Gauthier interlaces the radiance of a classical violinist with the electronic fury of a stalwart jazz-rocker. Guitarist Nels Cline and his brother, drummer Alex Cline, help light a torch to the proceedings, whereas pianist David Witham and bassist Joel Hamilton round out the quintet with forthright intentions. Ultimately, Gauthier surfaces as a rock solid composer via these memorably tuneful numbers. Therefore, it's not just your typical electric jazz affair as there's quite a bit going on under the hood.