Greg Ruggiero: Balance (2007)
With Balance, guitarist Greg Ruggiero makes it clear that he is an artist with something to say, both through his instrument and his writing. This is not to imply that the music is a template for showy pyrotechnics, but rather a display of subtle technique and thoughtful composition. His pieces have the dynamic feel and grace of West Coast Cool coupled with the modern compositional sheen of the current New York scene. The music unfolds, revealing its strength with understatement and a beautiful warmth, much like the music of the late Jimmy Giuffre, while Ruggiero's guitar work is reminiscent of Jim Hall in its shared aesthetic of warm, distinctive tone and harmonic approach.
Another reference point could be the current music of Kevin Eubanks for many of the same reasons. Rarely taking extended solos, Ruggiero tends to concentrate on the overall ensemble sound, rounding out his compositions with an emphasis on harmonic shading, distinctive time displacements, and the role of each instrument involved in the pieces. He switches between electric, acoustic and classical guitars in an effort to integrate tonal colorations to great effect. He has plenty to say, but never thumps anyone over the head with it.
The idea of an ensemble working together as one voice seems to be of utmost importance. Every member handles the music with poise and deft sensibility, which brings a radiant and monolithic character to the overall sound. Ruggiero's warm guitar tones blend beautifully with Rob Wilkerson's alto and Frank LoCrasto's Fender Rhodes piano; when combined, they bring about a shimmering and seductively undulant sound that never becomes overly sentimental or sappy. There is a delicate balance between light and dark, exposition and introspection, and the known and unknown.
One of the more interesting aspects of this music is how Ruggiero deals with time, with the interaction between his guitar and the rhythm section quite compelling. While the overall warmth of the music is inviting, there is an undercurrent that reveals itself through note choice and time displacement that betrays a depth of power to the music that is truly captivating.
Track Listing: Answer; This Life; A Losing Battle; Balance; The Way Out West; Ethereal; Paper Cranes; My Better Half.
Personnel: Greg Ruggiero: electric, acoustic, classical guitars, vocals; Rob Wilkerson: alto saxophone; Frank LoCrasto: piano, Fender Rhodes, ARP Odyssey; Matt Brewer: bass; Tommy Crane: drums, percussion.